Nathalie Cabrol

Nathalie Cabrol - 2020 SPIE Women in Optics Planner

Director of Research
SETI Institute, USA

Nathalie Cabrol

Country of Birth: France
Country of Residence: USA
Educational Background: PhD


I cannot remember a day when I did not want to be involved with space exploration. Growing up watching Carl Sagan and Jacques Cousteau might also have “a little bit” to do with the fact that I am diving in extreme lakes to try to solve questions about life in the Universe.

I wear two hats: I am the Head of Science at the SETI Institute, where I develop the strategic vision for the search for life beyond Earth; I am also an astrobiologist, a researcher who explores extreme environments on Earth to understand how to search for life in the Universe.

Space exploration was nascent when I started, and planetary geology or astrobiology did not exist yet. There was no path to follow. I had to trust my passion and believe in my dream while making it a reality every single day by following my inner compass. It was extremely challenging at times but the rewards have been many.

My best guide was my mom. She believed in me and kept reminding me to believe in myself and, whatever I wanted to do, apply myself and be the best I could be. This is so true for everything in life. Life is not about the challenges that it throws at you. It is very much about how we respond to them. If I look back honestly, all the challenges I met, my successes and my failures, gave me the strength and tenacity to ultimately succeed.

And there was my meeting with Carl Sagan. Among the things he said, these words always stayed with me: Never let anybody define who you should be or who you can or cannot be. Follow your passion. Look ahead, look up, but never look back. Our present is the sum of our past. It should be a springboard to build the future every single day, not a prison.

Sometimes it takes time to discover who we are and what we want. It is important to be exposed to as much as we can to the types of things we think we would love. Try summer programs, be hands on, talk to people, send emails to your role models. That’s the only way to know whether this is really for you. The choice of young women to go into STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) must be encouraged; and must come from their heart, not from social or peer pressure. It is their lives and they must be the master of their ship. If they want to sail the STEAM boat, they should not hesitate to get in contact with women who have done the same. We’ll be there for them.

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