Pr. Kurt Lambeck, Knight in the Order of the Legion d’Honneur
Prof. Kurt Lambeck, was confered the insigna of Knight in the Order of the Legion D’Honneur by H.E. Mr. Stéphane Romatet, Ambassador of France to Australia, during a ceremony at the Shine Dome of the Australian Academy of Science, on March 6, 2013.
Professor Kurt Lambeck receiving the insigna of Knight in the Order of the d’Honneur from H.E. Stéphane Romatet, Ambassador of France in Australia.
“I am delighted to accept this award and I am humbled to join a very impressive group of Australians who have been awarded the Legion of Honour,” Professor Lambeck said.
Immediate past President of the Australian Academy of Science, Professor Lambeck first visited France in the 1970s to help set up the French (CNES) program in space geodesy – particularly in the area of geophysics.
He spent nearly eight years working in France with the latter years at the Institut de Physique du Globe (IPGP). Students from that time now occupy many important positions in France and some have become major international leaders.
Prof. Kurt Lambeck surrounded by Prof. Suzanne Cory, President of the Australian Academy of Science, and H.E. Stéphane Romatet.
After returning to Australia, Professor Lambeck joined the Australian National University but he continued to work closely with researchers from CNES and IPGP and was a frequent visitor to France.
He was Foreign Secretary (1994-2004) and later President (2006-2010) of the Australian Academy of Science.
In late 2012 Professor Lambeck was awarded the 750,000 Swiss Franc ($800,000 approx) Balzan Prize for Solid Earth Sciences for ‘exceptional contribution to the understanding of the relationship between post-glacial rebound and sea change levels.’
Academy President, Professor Suzanne Cory, offered the Academy’s warmest congratulations to Professor Lambeck.
“Kurt has been a strong and tireless advocate for international collaboration in science, and has done much to advance knowledge in both Australia and France,” Professor Cory said.
“This honour is very well deserved.”
and if you will allow me, with respect and friendship, dear Kurt,
Tonight I am going to make you feel a little uncomfortable. You are a great scientist, as such, you share both character traits of the great scientists: modesty and refusal of honours.
This decoration ceremony may therefore be somewhat unpleasant for you. But I will try to make it as smooth as possible.
I have already had the pleasure of meeting you once before, late in 2011, here at the Australian Academy of Science, during a scientific symposium of French and Australian biomedicine specialists. You told me then that you were returning again to France, to the Ecole Normale Supérieure.
May I say that France is almost your second home? Everything links you to my country. Your knowledge of the language of Molière first. I could measure during our too brief discussion how you mastered its subtleties. It is important for us to know that great scientists like you speak French. Because it is a language of culture, but it is also a language of science. And I thus want to pay tribute to you this evening for this effort to have mastered French so well.
What also links you to France is your remarkable scientific collaboration. Your long working relationship with the Ecole Normale Supérieure, which trains the elite of the elite in science in France. Your association with the French Academy of Sciences, of which you are a fellow associate member. What a prestige for us to welcome you to this Academy established by Louis XIV in 1667! I do not know how many Australians have sat in this respectable institution, so highly esteemed and recognised in France. It is in any case for me a great honour to be able to mix alongside you, a member of our Academy of Science, here in Canberra!
What connects you to France, is foremost your family life as two of your children were born in France and grew up there. With your wife, Meg, you have in France a robust network of friends. France will always be your second home.
I just mentioned Louis XIV, founder of the Academy of Sciences. One of the great French minds of the seventeenth century was Blaise Pascal. You are also, dear Kurt, a visiting Professor of the Blaise Pascal International Research Chair at Normale Sup.
I mention Blaise Pascal because he defined with so much wisdom what makes, according to him, an "honest man" in science. Pascal placed honesty as a virtue above all others. He explained what the character of an honest man was: the height of spirit, the nobility of heart, the ability from a complex scientific problem to provide a solution, the ability to rise above schoolyard or chapel disputes, and finally the vision which allows one to foresee the major issues of the world.
Well, Kurt, and even if your modesty must suffer, you are an honest man as defined by Blaise Pascal. In your notice published by the Academy of Sciences, it is noted that your work, your research, your publications on the rotation of the Earth on the slow distortions of the Earth and more recently on the rise in sea levels "have had a profound influence on all researchers" in your discipline.
Your discipline is very closely related to one of the main challenges -if not the main- we face: climate change. You also are an actor in this public debate. I also noticed that you, and many of your colleagues of the Australian Academy of Science, were challenged or attacked by climate change sceptics. But for you, there is no controversy, only science, observation and facts. You are truly a Pascalien honest man!
Despite your seeking to avoid honours, it is clear that they seek you! A few months ago, you received a prize from the prestigious Balzan Foundation.
And to have a good start for 2013, France would also like to honour you. More than honour you, France would like to thank you. Thank you for this exceptional scientific relationship you have woven with your French colleagues. Thank you for the career you have spent in France. Thank you for being Australian but, in your heart, so French.
You know what the Legion of Honour represents. This highest French distinction, created by Napoleon, honours the cohorts of the brave. Tonight, we honour an honest man.
Au nom du Président de la République, nous vous remettons les insignes de Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur.
Download the Australian Academy of Science’s media release here.