Einstein Questionnaire

Léo Botton-Divet


Please close your eyes and think about your research project. What do you see at first?

I see monkeys’ skeletons jumping from branch to branch. Not in a macabre way, just as if I was able to see through their bodies.


How would you explain your research to a child?
We try to understand how and why monkeys that look alike, move and jump differently.


What is it that surprises people when you tell them about your research? 
Often people are surprised by how little we know about animals as emblematic as primates.


With whom would you like to swap your workplace for one day? What would you do?
I would like to spend time in a small mechanics shop, like an horology shop or where they fix old cameras. Small contraptions that can capture time or light fascinate me.


Is there any rather unusual hobby or talent you might want to share with us?
Unicycling, even though I didn't get to do it much since being in Berlin.


What did your research teach you about life?
That we have very poor abilities to judge how two biological forms differ without using dedicated tools. Often, our brain initially identifies things as similar although analysis shows very relevant differences. Whereas differences that strike us as particular are sometimes of no evolutionary or functional relevance.


What would your job be, if not a scientist?
Anything that would give me opportunities to go into the wild.


Is there any particular object that follows you through work and/or life? 
Plants! My flat is full of plants, and only a few of them were bought. Plants are an awesome way to share with people!


Which place in Berlin do you like the most, and why?
I really like the city as a whole. There is always a new thing to discover and it is far less stiff than what I expected. It feels like there is room for everybody, without judgement.


Is there anything about Berlin that you didn’t expect at all? And/or something that you miss here? What makes Berlin special for your research?
I was told Berlin is a green city, but it is more than true – there are trees and parks everywhere. The only thing I am missing right now might be French cheese. I guess you can find some, but definitely not on every street corner. I would say that Berlin is an awesome place for research as it combines state of the art research, big institutions and infrastructure with a very peaceful environment, an European capital without the downsides!