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Engineering | From Germany to Polytechnique via NASA



At 17, the German Marcel Kaufmann won a competition organized by NASA. About 10 years later, he was recommended by Chris Hadfield for a scholarship to study at Polytechnique. In a few months, he will move to California to work for the prestigious JPL Lab.

The doctoral candidate seems to be living in a fairy tale. “When I won the NASA competition, they sent me to Houston for a workshop where I could plan a mission with astronauts and engineers,” recalls the 32-year-old student. It sparked my passion for space! »

Raised in Sachsenhausen, a tiny village 90 minutes from Frankfurt, he dreamed of seeing the rest of the world. “When I went to the United States, it was my first airplane flight. I met Chris Hadfield, who became an inspiration to me. »

Impressive purse

After a bachelor’s and master’s degree at the Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences, Marcel Kaufmann moved to the Netherlands to work for the company Science & Technology. Its role: to monitor critical infrastructure, such as gas and oil pipelines, from space. “We used European and Canadian satellite radars to monitor companies that start digging when they shouldn’t,” he explains. It often happens in some African countries and Western countries like the Netherlands. »

One day, he received a call from Giovanni Beltrame, a professor in the computer engineering and software engineering department at Polytechnique Montréal. “He asked me if I wanted to do a doctorate with him. I had always dreamed of continuing my studies, but I didn’t have the money. He offered me a scholarship, in addition to encouraging me to apply for one of the Vanier Graduate Scholarships, telling me that I had a good chance. »

With good reason, because Marcel Kaufman obtained an impressive scholarship.

In 2017, I quit my job and moved to Montreal knowing that I didn’t speak French. It’s the fifth language I learn, not counting the programming languages ​​that are also in my head.

Marcel Kaufman

A jump to NASA

During his doctoral studies, he had the opportunity to work for NASA for a few months. “In 2020, I worked on a project of robots that explore unknown worlds or underground environments autonomously. »

Due to the pandemic, he returned to Montreal to continue his studies and collaborate with the JPL Lab remotely. Their collaboration has become so fruitful that a job offer awaits him when he has finished his thesis.

Indeed, his knowledge of photonics, computer science and robotics make him a prime candidate for NASA.

I am like a Swiss army knife with several tools that I can use to meet a wide variety of challenges.

Marcel Kaufman

He will also be called upon to work on several NASA projects as a data scientist. For those who wonder if the student knows Farah Alibay, the answer is “yes”. “At JPL, there are between 600 and 800 people. I had no direct contact with Farah, except for a virtual coffee during the pandemic. Maybe we’ll have the opportunity to collaborate in the future, but I don’t know. »

Speaking of the future, he would very much like to go into space. “I applied with 23,000 others to the European Space Agency’s latest call for astronaut applications. I was not selected, but I will keep trying. It’s a long-term dream. »

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