This deeply noble and moderate man is a scientist dedicated to space and everything that seems unreal to the rest of us. Iannis Dandouras is an internationally renowned researcher who never stops searching even further, even deeper! The modus operandi of this spatial Greek scientist certainly escapes that of the stony scientist since despite his devotion to science, his humane approach to everything is wonderful.   

#science #space #scientist #research 

By Mia Kollia
Translated by Alexandros Theodoropoulos

Iannis Dandouras has been a research physicist at IRAP (Institut de Recherche en Astrophysique et Planétologie) in Toulouse, a laboratory under the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) since 1989. He studies the Earth's space environment, the magnetosphere of Earth and the magnetospheres and upper atmospheres of planets and satellites in our Solar System.

He is the lead researcher in the CIS experiment of the ESA Cluster program and the lead researcher in the HIA experiment of the Double Star program. In the field of planetary exploration, he was the lead researcher on Cassini's French participation in the MIMI experiment for the study of Saturn and its satellites and participates in the SERENA experiment of ESA's Bepi-Colombo program, which is on its way to planet Hermes. 

ESA recently commissioned him to form an international research team in order to scientifically prepare for the study of the Moon's space environment as part of the European participation in the Lunar Gateway / Artemis project: the return of Man to the Moon.

- How important do you think the family environment is in the upbringing of children?

I was fortunate to grow up in a family where our parents gave us love for learning, life skills, encouragement and hope. My father was a mechanical and electrical engineer and my mother was a biologist and geologist. They always liked and encouraged deep discussions, aroused curiosity and tried to answer all our questions. When the time came for me to go to study abroad, their support was unwavering.

- Did you have any particular inclination from the beginning? What made you choose this expertise?

From a young age I felt an attraction for the natural sciences, for how and why natural phenomena occur and especially for Space. As a little child, I experienced the first astronauts to walk on the Moon, I was interested in what technology was needed to make a pre-eternal and "unattainable" human dream possible, but also I was interested in what are the physical conditions in the vast Space.

When I was finishing high school, I couldn’t choose between the Polytechnic and the Physics Department of the University - in the end, the University won me over. My next goal was to continue my postgraduate studies abroad and try to achieve what had always excited me: to get a little "closer" to Space. I couldn’t become an astronaut, because it is something for the very few and requires perfect physical condition, but as a space scholar I could approach it!

- What were the biggest difficulties you faced, how did you overcome them and what did they teach you?

When I left Greece to start my postgraduate studies in France, I found myself alone in a country that was then foreign to me, in a completely new environment. I had to adapt in every way but also to study hard. I always believed that difficulties are overcome with will, patience and work.


- How did you manage the recognition, the reputation and the acceptance in such a demanding scientific field?

Success and recognition always bring moral satisfaction and confirmation that your efforts are not wasted and that your contribution is valuable whatever it may be. Science teaches you that everything can be revised. It's a lesson in moderation.

How is life away from Greece? What do you get, what experiences do you stand out?

Living in different countries with different people who have their own cultural background, one learns to recognise and respect local peculiarities, but also realises how much we have in common.

Are there any influential and significant people for you, in your life?

The subject of Physics that I had at school by our teacher Manolis Skiathitis was decisive. He lived and worked with love and great passion for the subject of his teaching and was happy to share it with us. In my student years, I was fortunate enough to talk to the late professor of Astronomy at the University of Athens, Dimitrios Kotsakis, who was a family friend. He taught me some of the first "secrets" of Astronomy and Space, guided me and encouraged me.

When I came to France, my teacher Henri Rème always stood by me. Going to America afterwards, Professor George Parks from Berkeley was a good friend to me, a colleague and a great talker. Later, when I returned to France as a permanent researcher, I had the honor to work, within the Cassini program, with the well-known Stamatis Krimizis.

- What qualifications does a space scientist need?

It's the nature of the research that no one knows in advance where it will end up. But you always gain something, because even a negative or vague result is always a result which contains clues as to what the next step should be. It is up to us to recognise these signs.

- What is your relationship with emotion? Is research and science just rationality?

Man is a complex nature, emotion and logical analysis coexist, and often their boundaries become indistinguishable.

- Recently, a scientist told me that "scientists are funny to believe in God". How do you approach religion?

These are two different things. The approach of God stems from the transcendental and from the level of belief of each of us. I always stand with admiration in front of the majesty of the Universe and the extremely delicate balances between the physical constants and the natural laws that allow everything to work; the stars to have formed with their planetary systems, to have habitable zones, and to be actually here and to discuss them!

Personally, like my other colleagues, I am convinced that all this is not accidental and that it’s a consequence of God's Wisdom. But I respect the beliefs of other scientists, who are agnostics.

- What does it mean to exist, to teach and to develop in a country and in a research center with different infrastructures from those of Greece?

Greece is always inside me and I make sure to collaborate with Greek scientific teams and colleagues. Greece has amazing potential, it just needs to be given the opportunity to grow.

- What is Space for you? Would you like to go there one day?

Many times I think and dream that I am there. I live it through my study and the observations we make with everything we send into space. But when I am in a beautiful landscape, admiring it, I realise that the beauty and friendliness of our Earth, cannot be found in any other planet of our Solar System. Let's take care to preserve it!