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5 Questions for a Scientist: Inventor and Cybersecurity Expert Bertrand Cambou

The gap between the science classroom and a real-life career in the sciences can seem distant for some students. The 5 Questions for a Scientist interview series was created to bridge this gap! We aim to inspire students to pursue careers in the sciences by showcasing the incredible diversity of STEM careers by talking to scientists themselves. See all of the interviews here.


Get to know Bertrand

Occupation: Professor
Institution: Northern Arizona University
Field: Nanotechnology
Focus: Cybersecurity

Bertrand is a professor of practice, with a focus in nanotechnology, at Northern Arizona University's School of Informatics, Computing, and Cyber Systems, where he is exploring how microelectronics within the field of cybersecurity can be used to better protect hardware from cyber attacks. Before joining the faculty, he worked in the high-tech and semiconductor industry, where he helped develop and improve smart chip (a tiny circuit that can contain secure, personal information), smart card (such as a credit card that contains a smart chip), and point of sale (such as a credit card reader) technologies. He authored or co-authored 42 patent disclosures, was named a Distinguished Innovator at Motorola Semiconductor, and is a 2016–2017 AAAS-Lemelson Invention Ambassador. Bertrand grew up in France and holds degrees in physics, engineering, and electrical engineering.

1. Explain what you do in your work in one sentence (or two!).
I conduct research on the way to use nanomaterials and microelectonic devices and the way to strengthen cybersecurity, as well as teach and motivate students and young professionals. The goal is to transfer the know-how and results as widely as possible.

2. When did you first become interested in your field?
I was exposed to nanomaterials and microelectronics in my first job in industry after completing my education as a young solid state physicist. Cybersecurity over the years has become increasingly important; about 15 years ago, I became interested in applying my knowledge to the field. This turned into a passion when I realized that nanomaterials can act as "digital DNA" that can offer authentication of the electronic components that are now part of our modern life. As we are now moving into the era of connected objects—such as self-driving vehicles, medical portable devices, and strategic infrastructure—such authentication can protect our modern way of life.

3. What is your favorite part of being a scientist or of science in general?
Two aspects of being a scientist excite me: The first one is to discover new concepts and reduce them to practice. The second one is to positively impact people around me, colleagues, students, and partners. Science in general can impact, for the better, the quality of people's lives. Having the opportunity, even modestly, to apply science to improve people's lives is so gratifying to me!

4. What is a typical day like for you as a scientist?
In general, it is hard work, and it is not easy to pause because it is an exciting life. It is very important to preserve time to think and avoid a routine that could prevent the creative process. We need to have a good balance between studying and learning from others and spending time on our own researching work. In brief, I do not have a typical day, and this is what I like.

5. Do you have any advice for young people interested in science today?
Welcome, this is exciting! There are wonderful possibilities in pure science, and we need scientists interested in advancing science; however, I personally find applied science rewarding. I am not suggesting that young people should pick applied science. We all have our own preferences, but I personally have had great satisfaction practicing it.

 

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