Hello! My name is Laurent Pares. I am an optical engineer and I live in Toulouse, France. My role on ChemCam was to design the optics within ChemCam that would allow it to zap rock and soil samples and capture the light given off by the zapped samples. When not working on ChemCam, I work on projects designing instruments for astrophysical applications. On one project, I worked with a laser which was able to create a plasma when focused on a target; ironically my job was to prevent the plasma from forming.
When I was around 10 to 13 years old, I didn't know what I wanted to be later. My favorite school subjects were math and physics. The first job I thought about was being a teacher. I didn't even know that engineers existed. Space exploration had always interested me but Mars was not in my Top 3. The pictures taken by the Viking missions showed a red barren land with some rocks. That was not very appealing to me at that age. What sparked my interest in Mars? Definitely the Pathfinder mission. A small remotely controlled robot analyzing rocks and the beautiful images of the surface of Mars. And of course, the Spirit and Opportunity rovers also sparked my interest for the same reasons as Pathfinder.
ChemCam is important because with it, you can chemically analyze the rocks around the rover from a distance. If you find a distant rock to be interesting, you can decide to move the rover before even touching the rock. ChemCam will help select rocks for analysis that the other instruments can perform. I think the most exciting discovery MSL can make is finding that life arose on Mars at some point in the past.