Friday 02 Jun 2017

The Importance of Being a Pioneer

“I am happy to be here as I was roughly your age when I decided to become an explorer,” began Swiss pioneer, pilot and balloonist Bertrand Piccard as he stepped onto the stage of the Auditorium in the Centre des arts, where some 350 La Grande Boissière students had gathered to hear his presentation. 

Piccard’s passion for exploration comes from his grandfather, who was one of the first men in the stratosphere, and father, who became the first man to explore the deepest part of the world’s ocean – the Mariana Trench. From them, Piccard “understood that life is much more interesting if we explore the world, if we try to go beyond the obvious.” In fact, one of his key pieces of advice to Ecolint students was to always ask “the most important question of all” – why? – for this is the question that paves the way to becoming a pioneer. 

Having learned at school about a lost continent that had sunk with a super-evolved society in it, Piccard admitted that, as a boy, his first wish was to become an archaeologist and go exploring, in the hopes of finding Atlantis. Later, as he grew up, he developed a passion for hot air ballooning and undertook the challenge of flying non-stop around the world in a balloon to prove that it was not impossible. In 1999, after two failed attempts, Piccard successfully circumnavigated the globe with a balloon in a flight that lasted just under 20 days. 

The Solar Impulse Adventure

With Solar Impulse, the idea was to attach solar cells to the top of an aeroplane which would capture solar energy. This would then power propellers and accumulate in batteries which would feed the engines during night flight. Piccard recounts that when he first presented the idea of a plane that could (in theory) fly perpetually without fuel to the aviation industry, they said it was impossible. Later, when the aeroplane was built, the same engineers said it would be impossible to fly it. Still later, when the craft flew, the engineers said it would crash. Finally, when they saw that it did not crash, the same engineers went back to their management to say they needed to work on electric aeroplane programmes. “This is the importance of being a pioneer – you have to open up new ways of thinking, of doing, of acting,” Piccard continued. 

Looking out on his audience of Ecolint students, Piccard urged them all to become pioneers. “There are so many important fields where we need pioneers to achieve better quality of life: poverty, medical research, the environment, human rights, legal, political and financial systems.” In the case of Solar Impulse, the purpose was to demonstrate that clean and renewable technologies can achieve ‘impossible’ things – like flying around the world in a plane without fuel. Yet in order truly to be a pioneer, Piccard continued, “you must be able to think out of the box, out of current knowledge, and try to fill in the gaps where we have questions and doubts.”  

Piccard’s final encouragement to students to invest their energies, hopes and dreams in improving the world around them aligned perfectly with Ecolint’s dedication to international education and its recognition of the importance of global issues, as evidenced by its students’ commitment to and engagement with the political, ethical and environmental challenges of their times. Continually re-evaluating needs in light of social, economic and cultural change, Ecolint dedicates itself to modelling the values that it encourages in its students – in this case, the values of excellence, innovation and a pioneering spirit. 

Find out more about the Solar Impulse adventure here.

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