Sophie Hontebeyrie, CNRS Crystal Medalist


Sophie Hontebeyrie, CNRS Crystal Medalist

By Communication Department

A portrait of Sophie Hontebeyrie, a research engineer at the Laboratory of Mathematics and its Applications in Pau (LMAP) and winner of the 2021 French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) Crystal Medal.

Nothing predicted Sophie Hontebeyrie to be a research engineer at the Laboratory of Mathematics and its Applications in Pau (UMR 5142, CNRS/UPPA). And even less to win the CNRS Crystal Medal“I have always had a passion for all forms of art. After my studies in sociology and town and country planning, I first joined an association in 1995 in charge of promoting heritage through live performances. Then I evolved in several theaters and artistic venues in Bordeaux, often on transversal missions between administration, financial management and projects.” It was not until 2008 that Sophie Hontebeyrie decided to take the external competitive examination for the CNRS.

From theater to research

In 2009, the 40-year-old obtained her first position as a research engineer at the newly created Institute of Analytical Sciences and Physical Chemistry for the Environment and Materials (IPREM) in Pau. The paint is still fresh in the new building built in the Hélioparc technology center.  Sophie Hontebeyrie is responsible for assisting the laboratory’s management with administrative and financial structuring and is involved in the convergence of the research teams that came from separate laboratories. Sophie Hontebeyrie is still amused by the words of Olivier Donard, the director of the institute, when she first arrived: “You’ve managed theaters, now you’ll manage a circus!” A friendly joke that reflects the magnitude of the task that awaits her. “I was the interface between the supervisory authorities and the laboratory, and I was also in charge of managing the building. In particular, I contributed to the implementation of a concerted policy on prevention and safety and took steps to obtain funding, she recalls. I didn’t know the world of research. Fortunately, I benefited from the kindness of the IPREM staff as well as colleagues from UPPA and CNRS, who welcomed me warmly.”

Conductor of an exemplary Shared Services Center

Now well versed in the mysteries of university research, Sophie Hontebeyrie applied in 2016 for internal mobility to join the Laboratory of Mathematics and its Applications in Pau (LMAP). A member of the Multidisciplinary Institute of Applied Research (IPRA) and the Carnot-ISIFoR Institute, LMAP brings together the entire mathematical community of UPPA. The management of the Science and Technology for Energy and the Environment (STEE) College very quickly entrusted her with the mission of setting up a Shared Services Center (SSC) for the administrative and financial management of IPRA, the computer science laboratory (LIUPPA) and the Aquatic Environments and Resources (MIRA) federation.

“The Shared Services Center is an innovative model, somewhat experimental, where agents attached to distinct research units work together, evolving on several sites and buildings, each under the authority of different hierarchical superiors.” This is an original structure, involving twelve staff members, which requires a great deal of coordination. “The SSC is the cornerstone of research support,” says Sophie Hontebeyrie, who is responsible for its operation and is piloting the project. Officially created in February 2020, the SSC required a great deal of upstream work to build a working group. “I engaged in a participatory process that put people at the heart of the project. I wanted everyone to find their place and to develop as best they could.” By awarding her the 2021 Crystal Medal, the CNRS is recognizing not only her role as a driving force in the design and implementation of the Shared Services Center, but also the human qualities of a seasoned professional. “I share this recognition with the entire SSC team and with all those who played a founding role in its construction. It is a collective success,” Sophie Hontebeyrie says humbly, true to her career path and her values.