Michaël Gillon has had an atypical career: he began his studies at the age of 24, after seven years in the army. “I left high school at 17 and I didn’t feel ready or motivated to go to university. I regretted it afterwards.” He quickly caught up any lost time because he finished his degree in biochemistry as well as the first cycle of studies in physics in five years.
In 2003, attracted to research, Michaël Gillon hesitated for a moment when it came to choosing a subject for his doctoral thesis. There was too much choice: Genetics? Biochemistry? Astrophysics? Finally, he chose the latter and he was offered work processing the observations of the CoRoT satellite (see : Voyage to the centre of the stars). He discovered a passion for exoplanets and research into extraterrestrial life. In March 2006, he defended his thesis on the improvement of photometry in exoplanetary transits, within the framework of the CoRoT project.
He then left on a post-doctoral trip to the observatory in Geneva, where he worked for almost three years with Michel Mayor’s group, a pioneer and leader in exoplanetary research. Now back at the University of Liège since January 2009, he is currently continuing his work on exoplanetary detection and their physiochemical characterisation. Within the context of the TRAPPIST project (see : Astrophysicists from Liège in seventh heaven), he is the scientific manager and main investigator concerning exoplanets. This project has resulted in numerous publications as well as the detection of some thirty exoplanets in transit between the end of 2010 and the middle of 2012.
Since 2012, he has been developing the SPECULOOS project within his unit and in partnership with the University of Cambridge and the University of Jeda. The aim of this project is to study ultracool dwarfs in order to detect habitable planetary systems that are close to Earth. He is also involved in the preparation of the CHEOPS space mission which involves placing a small space telescope in orbit to examine already known exoplanets in more detail. Michaël Gillon is a member of the board and scientific team of the CHEOPS mission.
Michaël Gillon is at the origin of the discovery of the TRAPPIST-1 exoplanetary system, revealed on february 22dn 2017, in an article published in Nature. TRAPPIST-1 is the system with the biggest number of rocky planets and the greatest number of potentially habitable worlds ever discovered up to the present day. It has reignited the quest for extra-terrestrial life in the Universe.