The team behind Gravity!

At the time when the Gravity! course is reaching its conclusion, I think that it is important to stress that there is more to this course than the ubiquitous lead educator. This is also an opportunity to go backstage and show a MOOC (Massive Open On-line Course) in the making.

From the start, because we were addressing a very large audience of learners, we wanted to avoid using slides and voice-over. As strange as it may seem, it was important for me to keep an eye contact with the learners (even if, at the time, you were all as real as a quantum fluctuation). This meant using the techniques of movie-making, shooting the course in a studio (luckily, Paris Diderot has a beautiful one) and having a full technical team.

Let me now introduce the team. Here they are, on stage, in front of the “green screen” used to include background images or movies.

The Gravity! technical team

The Gravity! technical team

From left to right:

  • Jean-Luc Robert, the director and editor of all the videos,
  • Marie Verleure, our project manager for the full course,
  • Thierry Maillot, stage management, camera (and the beautiful special effects of the railer)
  • Lili Dongarra, director of photography,
  • Leo Friez, sound engineer,
  • Laure, intern, who developed a real skill at the clapperboard.

You have to realize that each video unit of 10 to 15 minutes was divided into sequences of some 8 to 10 sequences, each shot individually (sometimes three or four times when I was not good enough -and the team was merciless about that-, or when there was some light or sound problem, or a fit of the giggles). Shooting a single video was basically taking half a day, even more for the more complex ones (like the scenes with the candles which required the presence of fire security just in case we burn the whole place down!). As you may have noticed, we had difficulties with the light on the white board: too much light gave unwanted reflections, too little and one would not be able to see what was written. Here are a few pictures that give you an idea of the atmosphere on stage.

Inspired by Michelangelo

Inspired by Michelangelo





Lili’s attention, attracted by the black hole singularity

Something wrong?

Something wrong?



Not alone to cross the horizon

Not alone to cross the horizon

The session is reconstructed in the editing process, which takes hours in order to recapture the fluidity of the course, include pictures and movies. This was Jean-Luc responsibility. All the footage is then archived: we needed all the ressources of scientific documentation to do this. Just imagine: each 10 to 15 minute video session includes some ten sequences, each shot 2 or 3 times, with sound track and the images of 3 cameras (shooting on different angles). We were some of the heaviest users of data storage in the lab.

Then music was added. Let me say a few words about the presence of music and sound effects in the videos. I am a great believer that science and art have a common goal, which is to raise our understanding of the universe outside and inside us (the outer and inner space). Artists have their specific means and sometimes have their own short circuits to comprehend concepts or ideas that we physicists painfully identify after lengthy computations. So it was essential for me to involve artists in the conception of this course.

This is why I asked Gorka Alda, a contemporary music composer, to write an original score. A very unusual decision, as you may imagine. Another reason is that I find annoying the type of commercial music that tends to be associated with astrophysics. But why should there be music at all in a course like this? I know that has disturbed some, especially those with a good scientific background. Well, precisely for all the other learners: it provides a sort of familiar background which, after a while, helps to focus on the video content, and unconsciously relates some concepts with others (we specifically worked on that aspect with Gorka).

Once the videos are ready, one still has to build the whole course on the platform. This was the responsibility of Marie, our project manager. Long hours of days, nights and week-ends, to make sure that everything is in the right place, that the transcripts are correct, that all images are credited, that the correct versions of the videos are on-line, that the good answers in the quizzes are identified properly…

Until everything is ready on D day.

I should say that all this was performed by the whole team with dedication, passion, much interest for the science (the technical team was my first audience, and a demanding one) and good humour, as you may see from the pictures.

So let me conclude by warmly thanking -in George’s name and in my own, and I am sure on behalf of all the learners- the team who made Gravity! a reality.

Pierre Binétruy

Are they human?

But, are they human?


  • Marilyn Clarke

    Well done Team. I grew to like the ‘music’ and it was certainly superior to that which has accompanied most of the MOOCs I have done.

  • George Moughton

    Well done Pierre and the team for a wonderful 6 weeks, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it. My education was in the arts, I was an engraver and I’ve had no physics education at all, now I feel I know something about it. I am 81 years old so a career change is out of the question but my thirst for knowledge of the subject has really been awakened ,thank you so much.

  • Pierre Binétruy

    Dear George,
    Let me congratulate you. The news of your birth has just reached the Alioth A star in the Ursa Major constellation: it lies at 80.9 light-years from the Sun. From the point of view of Aliothans, you can still envisage a career change.
    Best wishes.

  • Astrid Thompson

    What a great team you are! Thank you for your patience, dedication and passion ‒ these qualities were evident throughout. Personally I very much liked Gorka Alda’s musical accompaniments, They were delightfully tasteful and added that certain “je ne sais quois” to the production.
    Whenever I shall hear the word “gravity” in future I shall hear it spoken with a slight French accent, with those distinctive open vowels, and I shall smile.
    A big merci beaucoup to one and all
    from one of the thousands of satisfied Learners,

  • Steve Bryant

    A huge thank you to everyone involved for creating this brilliant and involving course. I think all your hard work has paid off and the result is something of which you can be really proud.

    Thanks again!


  • Mary C Deese-Barry

    I’m weeping tears of gratitude for one of the most exciting adventures offered me by everyone involved in producing and executing this course.

    It took me back to my childhood family table where I gathered with siblings for our first science lesson…GRAVITY…with my dad (see James H. Deese / Wikipedia)…and, constructed with toothpicks, the launch facility which came to be known at Cape Canaveral as Pad 39..
    My own children learned the significance of radar’s contribution to scientific advancement from my late-husband John P. Barry & his work at the Naval Research Laboratory in DC.

    What your team has accomplished should be replicated in every Physics classroom.
    Our world cannot wait for each high school physics teacher to be re-educated one at a time.
    Passionately, I believe the re-education process should be simultaneous & worldwide…and, this course format with your outstanding leadership is the perfect launch pad.

    Again, from the bottom of my heart…Thank you!

    • Pierre Binétruy

      Dear Mary,
      Heartfelt thanks. Kind words like yours are worth all the effort to prepare this course. And thank you for remembering your science lessons with your Dad: Cape Canaveral means so much for anyone involved in space sciences.
      Pierre, for the whole team

  • Fidel Angel Orozco

    So good results! Congratulations and thanks a lot!

  • Anna Skornyakova

    Many-many thanks to all the Gravity team! The course is made with great love and deep understanding of science and life, and with an amazing sense of humour. I’m so happy I took this MOOC, want to learn more and look forward to Pierre’s further announcements. Good luck in all your endeavours!


  • Dhruba Sen

    Many Thanks, Pierre, for an enlightening course. Although I had some background the course clarified and corrected some of my understanding. Please thank the rest of the team for their effort which ended very successfully. I’ll try to be in Paris for that 3 day seminar on Gravity that you mentioned. THANKS AGAIN.

  • MaryKaren Solomon

    It’s so good to meet the team! Everyone did quality work; I enjoyed the course thoroughly, learned a lot, and am still reading everything I can get my hands on about gravity and the functioning of the universe!

  • Peter Johnson

    I would just like to say a BIG THANK YOU to you all, for putting together such an interesting and thought provoking course. I do hope, you do a follow up course, as I am sure you will get the same sort of interest as this one, weather my brain would cope is another matter!
    I wish you all a very happy (and restful) Christmas and New Year!


  • Amadou cisse

    Thanks for this course. Go Team Gravity!

  • Barbara Harrison

    Enjoyed the course greatly. Hope one day to take another.

  • I absolutley loved this course!:) so out of my Artistic Comfort Zone! but surprised myself! Like a duck to water!:) just absorbed the knowledge like a sponge!:) thank you for this Amazing course! Can say one thing since going on the course my feet have not touched the ground!:) For some reason it has enhanced my creativity!:) Many thanks!

  • Diane Quinlin

    Best course yet! I loved the music and the science was fascinating. Thanks.

  • Martine Adriana

    It was an amazing short experience. No wonder the course was constructed by experts and a dedicated team. Thank you very much.

  • Richard Chenevert

    To Pierre and the Gravity Team,

    Thanks for a marvelous job with the Gravity MOOC…a mind altering and expanding serial with unforgettable music. You have transported me from the days of Hoyle, Bondi & Gold, Steady-State with Continuous Creation cosmology (where I left off active reading in the late 1960’s) via a fascinating journey into the cosmological physics of today.

    Could quantum fluctuations in vacuum space be the re-appearance of “continuous creation”?

  • Ken Grant

    Thank you all for this brilliant course on gravity. I still cannot believe that such an opportunity as these Futurelearn courses are being offered to everyone. Maybe planet Earth has recently fallen into a black hole and we did not notice that as we went through the horizon that the world changed from its usual ego centre to an inclusive centre.

  • clive ian arthurson

    Fantastic course. Feel very priveleged that a person who writes books on supersymetry has done a course for open learning. A big thank you to him and the team. I certainly will continue my interest in this subject.

  • I am delighted to have this opportunity to see and thank the many people who so ably supported Pierre Binétruy in the making of the videos for Gravity! From the Big Bang to black holes.

    As a former educational video producer/director/editor with both University College London and Imperial College of Science and Technology, I can appreciate better than most, the sheer amount of work and creative effort that went into the making of all the videos. That was a massive task by all involved and the result was a superb set of educational materials. Well done to you all.

    This was my first FutureLearn course, and I suspect I chose well. Not only was the subject matter fascinating, but the way it was put across is a credit to all involved. I have of course ordered the certificate to support future courses. And – I scored 100% by the way – another credit not only to Pierre’s teaching but to the way the material was so creatively delivered.

    Thank you all!
    Stephen Bell.

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