With their heads in the stars and their feet on the ground; meeting the Vice President and President of the Observatoire de Paris - PSL Student Council


Margaux Abello and Raphaël Flor are both second year Master’s students at the Observatoire de Paris - PSL. They are passionate about their studies, and want to encourage their fellow students to look up to the sky. Respectively Vice President and President of the recently founded Student Council of the Observatory, Margaux and Raphaël are behind one of the winning projects of the Call for Student Initiatives launched in the fall of 2021. Beginning in September 2022, they will be hosting observation events on campus.

portrait raphael margaux

Margaux Abello and Raphaël Flor share a passion for astronomy and a taste for sharing science. Along with fellow students at the Observatoire de Paris - PSL, they run an original student council (BDE Obs Paris), in line with the ambitions of their school: “We want to give Master's students the opportunity to complement their academic education by participating in parallel projects throughout the year. Our initiatives allow students to develop qualities and skills that are essential to the profession of researcher or engineer, and that cannot be learned from traditional lectures. We didn't want our student council to limit its activity to afterwork type events” says Margaux.

It is no coincidence that they are working together, having met in the third year of their Bachelor's degree in Fundamental Physics at the Université Paris Cité. At that time, Margaux already had the firm intention of going into research, which is why she joined the Master's Degree in Space Science and Technology at the Observatoire de Paris - PSL. For almost three years, she has been working on the creation of the Student Council within the Observatory, in addition to her studies. Raphaël had previously been involved in several associations, and joined one of the Master's programs at the Observatoire de Paris - PSL at the beginning of the 2021 academic year, and at the same time contributed to the development of the Student Council. The association now has six members on the board of directors, and Margaux and Raphaël are respectively Vice President and President. Like any new structure, their first missions consisted of creating links and strong partnerships to make themselves known to students on the five different Master's courses of the Observatoire de Paris - PSL, and they will now extend their initiatives more widely within PSL. Indeed, these two enthusiasts of the infinite have no intention of addressing only a public of physicists or astrophysicists: on the contrary, astronomy must be for the benefit everyone, especially those who were disappointed by science at school.

During the 2020-21 academic year, as President of the Obs Paris Student Council, Margaux noticed that because of the geographical distance and the expenses involved, very few Parisian students went to the Fleurance Astronomy Festival, even though the Île-de-France region has many astronomy-related courses, including those offered by the Observatoire de Paris - PSL. Saddened by this observation and with the help of several financial partners, she launched the ambitious project of making this formative experience and its rich encounters available to up to fifty students, regardless of their field of study, their level of study, or their school. Travel and accommodation expenses were covered by the Obs Paris Student Council. In addition, the association offered a reduced rate to students to attend all the conferences at the festival thanks to the generous support of La Ferme des Etoiles, the organizers of the event. This festival, far from being reserved for those who already have experience in astrophysics, offers talks at all levels, allowing amateurs to learn more and to marvel at the starry sky. An approach that Margaux and Raphaël fully share and advocate: “Science is discovered and happens out in the field,” says Raphaël. This year, the Obs Paris Student Council was able to reserve a dozen seats, at the same reduced rate as last year, for students enrolled in one of the Université PSL schools, allowing them to participate in the festival all week long. 

psl observation telescope

The driving force behind each of our projects is to overcome the idea of the compartmentalization of knowledge, especially in the field of astrophysics.

Recently, thanks in large part to the grant obtained through the PSL Call for Student Initiatives in the fall of 2021, the association was able to gather the necessary funding to purchase a telescope: the eVscope 2 from the French start-up Unistellar. “The Observatoire de Paris - PSL already has telescopes, but they are only for the use of students who are allowed to come on-site at the research facility. With the acquisition of this telescope for the exclusive use of the Student Council, we will now be able to organize observation evenings which will be open to everyone (subject to registration). Since the telescope belongs to the association, we can move it freely wherever we want, in the Ile-de-France region or anywhere else, even if it means setting up observation evenings in different places or campuses,” emphasizes Raphaël. Organizing observation evenings will also allow us to help the scientific community through participative citizen science projects in which the Obs Paris student council would like to take part: a passing comet, exoplanets or asteroids, simply by using this small telescope. These events will also be an ideal opportunity to learn about astrophotography, since the telescope allows you to take photographs with a short pause of a few seconds to a few minutes.

“The driving force behind each of our projects is to overcome the idea of the compartmentalization of knowledge, especially in the field of astrophysics. This scientific field is unfortunately still considered elitist and inaccessible, while its very principle is based on a mix of academic profiles and bringing together several different professions. There is no typical pathway in studying the Universe” explains Margaux. “We want as many people as possible to feel that sense of amazement, no matter what subject they are studying and regardless of their age. We ourselves are passionate and want to share this passion, pass it on and perhaps even create vocations for some people” adds Raphaël. Therefore, the sky observation evenings, set to begin in September 2022, will be an excellent way for the members of the student council to pass on their knowledge and to help new people to discover celestial objects.

As for Raphaël, who already has a lot of experience in the associative network, his objective is to share what others have shared with him, including his love for astrophotography. He also sees a lot of benefits that come to him through his involvement as a student, such as a greater openness of mind, his personal growth, and the development of knowledge applicable in the professional sphere. “Even if they haven’t visited an observatory, everyone has at least looked up at the sky on a starry night. We want to make it accessible to everyone and share enriching experiences with other students,” says Raphaël. For Margaux, her work on the Obs Paris Student Council has allowed her to develop a rich professional network that will help her launch new projects based on her passion for astronomical themes. The Student Council was the ideal context for her to learn about scientific mediation, in English as well as in French; an activity that really complements her experience in research laboratories.

The pair are especially keen to promote their association within the PSL network, as they feel motivated and supported by an administration that wants to see its associations flourish. To find out about the program of observation evenings planned throughout the year as soon as it is released, follow the Obs Paris Student Council on social networks (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram).

The Call for Student Initiatives

The Call for Student Initiatives is a project support system. It is held twice a year and promotes the actions of students, thus contributing to campus life. The Observatoire de Paris - PSL Student Council is a winner of the 2021 Call for Student Initiatives, along with nine other projects.