Académie des technologies

Claire Théveneau

  • R&D engineer in microtechnology
  • Thales III-V Lab
  • 33 years old
  • Sponsored by Dominique Vernay in 2021

Why a career in tech?

Mainly for two reasons: the grounded nature of this field as well as the constant need for new ideas. My work is not just theoretical, it has concrete, technical real world applications. And because technology often rhymes with innovation, it must constantly evolve and reinvent itself. There is nothing monotonous about this line of work and it is why I like it.

Your professional experience?

I chose a university cursus specialised in physics and chemistry, and obtained a master’s degree in polymeric chemistry. I then started working as a test leader in a laboratory manufacturing technical fabrics used in sports clothing. At the end of my contract and after a few months of job hunting, I managed to get to a positive job interview for the CNRS. I worked there for four years as an engineer. I was then recommended to the people at the laboratory III-V Lab (Thales-Alcatel-CEA) on the site of Palaiseau, and they offered me a position as a research engineer. I’ve been working there for four years.

Your first experience with technology?

The IEMN (the Institute of Electronics, Microelectronics and Nanotechnology) offered me my first job in this field. It is where I discovered the rich world of silicon and also where I first saw a clean room from the inside. For that, I would like to address my deepest thanks to the people who trusted me despite the fact that I had no prior knowledge or experience in this field.

What do you do today, and why?

I still work in a clean room as a research and development engineer but I’m not working with silicon-based materials anymore. Today, I use all the potential of the electro-optical properties of gallium arsenide in the manufacture of lasers. The wavelength selected on these lasers allows us to integrate the resulting components into atomic clocks for example.

Your strengths in this role?

Having worked in a clean room environment before really proved to be an asset for me. A master’s degree in chemistry doesn’t exactly fit the requirements for this kind of a job but combining this unusual diploma and my previous work experience allowed me to offer a new point of view to the team. Furthermore, I believe curiosity and motivation are key factors in this line of work.

Past challenges, failures and disappointments?

As I had no extensive theoretical background in laser technology at the time of my hiring, I was sometime left to wonder if I would be able to do it. In the end, though it was a challenge, I kept pressing on and do not regret it. The people who trained me were able to give me the confidence boost I needed and came to trust my work.

Best moments, successes you’re proud of?

I was very proud when I created my first component and observed it under a scanning electron microscope. At this moment, what I saw was the fruit of several months of work, each step in the process having been carefully optimized. I remember thinking that, on a micrometric scale, the component looked like a tiny cathedral. On a more personal note, I was also very proud of finishing my first half-marathon, complete with the sunrise over the Mediterranean Sea as a background. Truly an unforgettable moment.

People who helped, influenced -or made your life difficult?

Nothing predisposed me to a scientific career at first. I had problems solving mathematic equations, but my older sister understood that I just needed to shift my analysis and look at the problems in another way. With her help and personal work, I overcame these obstacles and came to love science.

Your hopes and future challenges?

I feel like there are so many new challenges! I'm now working on other materials and still have a lot to explore. The team would also like to extend its horizons by publishing patents. New adventures in the future I hope!

What do you do when you don’t work?

I have two passions: drawing and sports. I keep practicing both as one is more of a personal thing and the other is rather focused on teamwork. In all my professional experiences, sport has always helped with my integration. People sharing a same passion can usually understand each other easier.

Your heroes -from History or fiction?

Without hesitation I would say Leonardo da Vinci. There are so many words to define him: painter, engineer, visionary, anatomist… In many of his notebooks we can see how much he observed the world around him and was trying to understand it. I find fascinating that he used to draw the details of observed movements in order to understand new mechanical concepts, and then attempted to recreate those concepts with the resources of his century. Many centuries later, he still is a source of inspiration.

A saying or proverb you like in particular?

"All battles in life teach us something, even the ones we lose" (Paolo Coehlo). If we learn from our mistakes we can move forward and surpass ourselves. Oftentimes you only see people’s successes, but when looking harder you discover how many times they had to fail, get up and try again before achieving their goal.

A book to take with you on a desert island?

It all depends on if I need to survive or not on this island. If my life is on the line, then I will choose a survival manual. If survival isn’t an issue, a full edition of Jules Verne's works would keep me entertained for a long time.

A message to young female professionals?

Your life belongs to you, don't let anyone tell you what you should or shouldn’t do as a career. Don't hesitate to go to job fairs. When I was in high school, they were no meeting like that and I regret it. Finally, there is always the matter of balancing career and family. I don’t think they are mutually exclusive and they really should not be. The good thing is that businesses are beginning to give both parents helpful perks such as parental leave for example. In the end, this pandemic forces us to understand one thing: a balance between family and business life is essential.


The questionnaire answered by the Women of Tech is a variant of the Proust questionnaire, named not because Marcel Proust got lost in the Paris metro, but in memory of Emilie du Chatelet, a woman of letters, mathematician and physicist, renowned for her translation of Newton's Principia Mathematica and the dissemination of Leibniz's physics work. She was a member of the Academy of Sciences of the Bologna Institute. Emilie du Chatelet led a free and fulfilled life during the era of the Enlightenment and published a speech on happiness.

Emilie Du Chatelet

Woman of letters, mathematician and physicist

1706 - 1749