Philippe Laporte

Philippe Laporte

A new angle on climate change

Philippe Laporte

The B.E.S.T. Projects Fund gives students the opportunity to explore career paths outside of the classroom. Students get a reality check on what they hope to do for the rest of their lives, and often return with a better understanding of their chosen field.

Philippe Laporte’s B.E.S.T. experience is a little different. The Physics Honours student will be attending summer school at Utrecht University in the Netherlands to explore a relatively unknown discipline within environmental science: physics of the climate.

The Montreal native was first introduced to this field by one of his professors at Bishop’s. “I attended a glaciology talk by Dr. Valerio Faraoni,” says Philippe. “This particular field is dominated by environmental scientists, who work with different tools than mathematicians or physicists like me.”

The talk made Philippe reflect on his passions for physics and mathematics (he is also a Mathematics Honours student). “I like physics because it allows you to apply, but I also like math because it’s abstract,” he explains. “They’re quite opposite, but since they’re not linked, it’s difficult to go into both at the same time.”

“The summer school at Utrecht is made for undergraduate level students with a strong background in physics and math, so it’s a perfect fit for me,” Philippe continues. “When people hear about climate change from scientists, they often get qualitative information. A bunch of numbers doesn’t interest people, but it’s what I like to work with. I like the qualitative side of things.”

“A good example is the melting of glaciers in the Arctic,” he says. “How can you model that? How can you describe that mathematically and physically? If you want to model something on a computer, you need to have that data.”

Philippe is hoping to discover whether he wants to specialize in climate; not many physicists are studying climate change at the moment.

“It’s a great opportunity,” he says of receiving funds from B.E.S.T. “I don’t believe there are many universities where you can do this, especially at the undergraduate level. The more time you spend in a program, the more specialized you become, and then it gets harder to change. B.E.S.T. can give people a good idea whether they want to go into one field or another. If you haven’t tried it, how will you know if you like it?”

Philippe summarizes B.E.S.T.: “It’s liberal education in action. You get the opportunity to see something that you wouldn’t have seen before. You meet people who are not necessarily interested in what you’re interested in. You experience things you wouldn’t have had the chance to do otherwise.”

“I’m interested in climate change, and now B.E.S.T. is allowing me to pursue my curiosity. It’s fantastic!”