Research

The only French organisation for multidisciplinary research, the CNRS is a key player in international research, as well as a recognised innovator. Excellence, freedom of research, interdisciplinarity, and knowledge transfer are just some of the organisation’s values in the service of research that is in touch with economic and social issues.

Pushing back the frontiers of knowledge

The CNRS chooses to pursue research excellence that explores natural and social phenomena in greater depth, in an effort to push back the frontiers of knowledge. Based on researchers’ inquisitiveness, this science — which is constantly evolving — is a source of progress for humanity.

Multidisciplinary research

From basic research…

“Frontier research”, or so called basic research, is at the heart of the CNRS’s mission. It pushes back the limits of knowledge and expands our understanding of natural and social phenomena. Ranging from atoms, cells, and cognition to Roman law and gender stereotypes, all fields of knowledge come under the scrutiny of the scientific method, which tests theories through experimentation and argumentation.

…to its applications

The CNRS successfully applies for many patents, and establishes scientific partnerships with industrial actors in order to explore possible applications for its discoveries, and to develop technologies. The transfer of its basic research results drives innovation based on a scientific foundation of the highest quality.

Budding researchers: the Momentum call for proposals

Vue interne du plongement isométrique d'un tore carré plat, en 3D, dans l'espace ambiant.
© Vincent Borrelli / Saïd Jabrane / Francis Lazarus / Boris Thibert / Damien Rohmer / CNRS Photo library

Giving young researchers the means to autonomously explore emerging subjects is the goal of the CNRS-Momentum call for proposals launched in 2017. Open to all scientific domains, it finances projects connected to 13 transdisciplinary subjects, such as modelling the living, artificial intelligence, the study of human behaviour, etc.

Learn more about Momentum (in French)

A wealth of discoveries

Find out more about ten striking sets of scientific results from the past three years, selected by the CNRS Institutes. Energy storage, the origins of life, the secrets of the atom...These cutting-edge discoveries in basic research most often relate to highly topical issues.

Interdisciplinarity stimulates new approaches

Interdisciplinarity advances science by bringing disciplines together. This encounter can occur between established domains, but also between seemingly remote fields (physics and philosophy, for instance). New concepts, methods, and innovative solutions have resulted from interdisciplinary cooperation, which would not have been possible if scientists had remained confined to their respective domains.

Mission for Interdisciplinarity

The CNRS has made interdisciplinarity one of the priorities of its scientific policy. Numerous examples have shown that breakthrough discoveries are made at the interface between disciplines, thanks to researchers from different backgrounds. The Mission for Interdisciplinarity (MI) provides tools and dedicated funding to support novel projects led by interdisciplinary communities.

Learn more about MITI (in French)

 

Interdisciplinary “challenges”

The “challenge” is a support tool that offers particular incentives. Like an incubator, it can structure research communities within a few years, sometimes from disciplines that are quite remote. The CNRS has positioned itself through this approach as a key player in the national and international debate on future challenges such as mass data, energy transition, or knowledge of the living.

A global policy for big data

Supercomputing, “cloud,” the use and technology transfer of mass data now concern all scientific disciplines. These subjects, which link the most basic research with the most applied, represent a strategic multidisciplinary challenge for generating new knowledge. In 2015, the CNRS created the Computing-Data Mission (Mi-Ca-Do) to define and implement a global policy jointly shared with its national and international partners.

Super calculateur
The CURIE supercomputer can complete up to 2 million trillion operations per second.© Cyril Frésillon / CNRS Photo library

Large-scale instruments at the forefront of research

The CNRS designs and implements Very Large-Scale Research Facilities (TGIR) and Research Infrastructure (IR) with its French, European, and international partners, for the benefit of the entire scientific community. As a result, international teams working at the forefront of research in all fields have access to high-performance facilities: telescopes, high-energy particle accelerators, neutron sources, synchrotron radiation sources, lasers and intense magnetic fields, supercomputing systems, etc.

The Virgo interferometer in Cascina near Pisa, Italy, detected distortions in space generated by the passing of gravitational waves.
The Virgo interferometer in Cascina near Pisa, Italy, detected distortions in space generated by the passing of gravitational waves.© Cyril Fresillon / Virgo / CNRS Photo library

The CNRS Institutes

Within the CNRS Research Office (DGDS), the CNRS Institutes are the structures that implement the institution’s scientific policy, and oversee as well as coordinate the activities of laboratories.

The ten CNRS Institutes cover more or less extensive scientific fields, share projects, and promote cooperation between disciplines. They are directed by specialists in their domains who come from either the CNRS or the universities. The Institutes collaborate closely with functional departments on the following issues:

  • international policy,
  • site policy,
  • technology transfer and innovation,
  • scientific and technical information.

Institute of Biological Sciences (INSB)

The INSB’s mission is to develop and coordinate research in biology that seeks to understand the complexity of the living, from atoms to biomolecules, and from the cell up to complete organisms and populations.

Research areas

  • Structural biology
  • Bioinformatics
  • Pharmacology
  • Neuroscience
  • Cognitive science
  • Immunology
  • Genetics
  • Cellular biology
  • Microbiology
  • Physiology
  • Plant biology
  • Systems biology
  • Biodiversity

INSB website

 

 

Institute of Chemistry (INC)

The INC’s mission is to develop and coordinate research involving the development of new compounds, the understanding of chemical reactivity and prediction of the relations between the structure of molecules at the atomic level and the properties of these molecules.

Research areas

  • Chemistry of and for the living (exploration and development of new models and tools for pharmacology, biotechnology, medicine, cosmetics, the agri-food and agrochemical industries)
  • Green chemistry and sustainable development (creating new and cheaper chemical reactions that are also more effective, selective, and secure)
  • Functionalisation of matter (design and monitoring of material properties, especially for energy, and the development of nanochemistry)

INC website

Institute of Ecology and Environment (INEE)

The INEE’s mission is to develop and coordinate research in the fields of ecology and the environment, including biodiversity and human-environment interactions.

Research areas

  • Ecology
  • Biodiversity
  • Impact of global change
  • Health-environment
  • Resources
  • Chemical ecology and environmental chemistry

INEE website

Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences (INSHS)

The INSHS’s mission is to develop research on human beings, both as producers of language and knowledge, and as economic, social, and political actors.

Research areas

  • Cultures and societies in history
  • Human beings, societies, and the environment
  • Behaviour, cognition, and communication
  • Contemporary worlds

INSHS website

Institute for Engineering and Systems Sciences (INSIS)

The mission of the INSIS is to ensure the continuum between basic research, engineering, and technology by promoting a “systems” approach through the development of the disciplines central to the Institute.

Research areas

  • Sciences and technologies related to automation, signals, and electronic and photonic systems
  • Sciences and technologies covering mechanics, energy, and processes

INSIS website

National Institute for Mathematical Sciences and their Interactions (INSMI)

The INSMI’s mission is to develop and coordinate research in different branches of mathematics, ranging from its basic aspects to its applications. It also helps structure the French mathematical community and integrate it into the international scientific landscape.

Research areas

  • The different domains of mathematics
  • Mathematical modeling and simulation
  • Interface with other scientific disciplines
  • Interactions with companies and society

INSMI website

Institute of Physics (INP)

The INP’s mission is to develop and coordinate research in physics, with two primary objectives: to understand the world and to respond to the challenges facing society today. The INP laboratories are centered around two main fields:

  • Fundamental laws, optics and lasers
  • Condensed matter physics and nanoscience

INP website

Institute for Information Sciences and Technologies (INS2I)

With the dual objective of both conducting and supporting research, the Institute organises and develops projects in computer science and digital technology. One of its primary goals is to make these two research areas a central part of multi- and interdisciplinary issues, along with information science, in particular through its partnership with the INSIS and the CNRS’s interdisciplinary tools.

INS2I website

National Institute of Nuclear and Particle Physics (IN2P3)

The IN2P3’s mission is to develop and coordinate research in the field of nuclear physics, particle physics, and astroparticles.

Research areas

  • Particle physics
  • Quark-gluon plasma and hadronic physics
  • Nuclear physics and astrophysics
  • Astroparticle physics
  • Neutrino physics and astrophysics
  • Research and development of accelerators
  • Computing grids and data science
  • Nuclear applications for the health, energy, and environment sectors

IN2P3 website

National Institute for Earth Sciences and Astronomy (INSU)

The INSU’s mission is to create, develop, and coordinate national and international research in astronomy and Earth sciences, as well as ocean, atmospheric, and space sciences.

Research areas

  • Oceanography
  • Geology
  • Geophysics
  • Climatology
  • Hydrology
  • Volcanology
  • Seismology
  • Environment
  • Planetary science
  • Astronomy
  • Astrophysics

INSU website

Establishing partnerships

The CNRS plays an essential unifying role in the effective functioning and influence of French research by virtue of its partnerships with academia, industry and regional authorities. This partnership-based approach structures the organisation’s science, innovation, and education policy.

Multiple forms of cooperation

Academic partnerships

Since the creation of associated laboratories in 1966, partnerships and diversity have been the rule for CNRS research structures. The organisation’s 1,100 laboratories have all signed agreements and conventions with partners. In addition, 90% of its laboratories are joint research units (UMR), which bring together personnel from the CNRS and one or more other institutions (university, school, other organisation, etc.) to work on jointly defined subjects. 

Industrial partnerships

Industrial actors are essential partners of the CNRS, working alongside the academic world (higher education and public research). This cooperation, which is sometimes little known to the public, takes the form of joint research projects, patents, domestic and international public-private research organisations, and the creation of start-ups. These are so many concrete realisations that make the CNRS a key player in the French innovation landscape.

 

Strength concentrated at strategic sites

Centres of excellence

The CNRS is an essential contributor to the construction of world-class university sites that coordinate learning, research, and innovation. By promoting synergies and optimising resources, this site-based policy seeks to create champions of academic research in France who can compete with the world’s best multidisciplinary universities.

The Investments for the Future Programme

Present throughout France, the CNRS is well positioned to promote this programme. It is a full-fledged participant in the Investments for the future (PIA) scheme through its role in Idex (Initiatives of excellence) projects and I-sites (Science Innovation Territory Economy Initiatives). A founding member of 14 networks of universities and higher-eductation institutions (ComUEs), it is present in the administrative boards of numerous universities.

Site agreements

With its partners, the CNRS signs site agreements that define a shared scientific strategy, and provide a functional framework for joint research units (resources, contracts, etc.). The organisation helps structure sites by contributing its research excellence, scientific networks, industrial partnerships, international cooperation, and access to large research infrastructure.  

The actors of the CNRS site policy 

The CNRS Research Office (DGDS) coordinates the institution’s site policy through the directors of its ten Institutes.  

The Department for the Territorial Organisation of Research (Dapp) is in charge of assisting higher education institutions in their new responsibilities within the French research system. It coordinates the various operations through which the CNRS contributes to the development and promotion of large scientific clusters, working hand-in-hand with local actors and authorities.

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The CNRS is a major player in the Paris-Saclay cluster that brings together research organisations, higher education institutions, and companies to make up a world-class scientific and technological centre.© DR

The CNRS’s 18 regional offices, each under the responsibility of a regional representative, serve as the primary point of contact for the organisation’s partners in the field. They provide laboratories with essential services in human resources, financial management, partnerships and technology transfer, information systems, hygiene, and security. This cooperation has intensified in recent years in response to a commitment to ensuring coherent management of joint research units in the higher education and research landscape.

Research in the laboratory

CNRS laboratories are the organisation’s “building blocks”. Their teams, which consist of researchers, engineers and technicians, are behind the production and transmission of knowledge. Most laboratories are joint research units, bringing together partners from academia (universities, schools, and other research organisations) and industrial actors.

Highly diverse teams

Laboratories managed in partnership

The CNRS counts approximately 1,100 laboratories spread across France. The vast majority are joint research units (UMR) associated with a university, higher-education institution, or research organisation. They shape the local scientific landscape. In addition to these laboratories, there are 36 international joint units (UMI), whose number has been growing significantly since 2010.

Staff members with varied duties and status

Joint research units, which develop and disseminate knowledge, are characterised by the diversity of their team members’ status and duties. CNRS researchers, engineers and technicians work alongside academics, engineers and technicians from other institutions (universities, engineering schools, other research organisations). Their teams are complemented by contract employees (PhD students, postdoctoral fellows, researchers, engineers and technicians).

UMR, label of excellence

Obtaining the UMR status for a laboratory is a mark of recognition in the world of research, both in France and abroad. Reassessed every four years, this label makes it possible to hire CNRS personnel (researchers, engineers, technicians, administrative staff), and gives access to the organisation’s funds and international cooperation tools. 30% of French university laboratories are joint research units in partnership with the CNRS.

Professionals in the service of science

Researchers 

More than 15,000 researchers work in all scientific disciplines as represented by the organisation’s ten Institutes. They are recruited either by a competitive entry examination based on a scientific project, or by contract.

Researcher profiles:

  • 47.9 years: average age
  • 34.6% women
  • 90 different nationalities

Scientists drive research at the CNRS, which they have made the world’s leader in terms of scientific publications. The visibility of their work depends on their participation in conferences and seminars. Researchers also play an essential role in teaching and disseminating knowledge. They assist PhD students and young scientists, and can manage teams as well as teach. Encouraged to transfer their research results (through partnerships with industry, by applying for patents, creating companies, etc.), they are also key actors in relations between science and society through their participation in informational events intended for the general public. 

Engineers and technicians 

Nearly 18,000 engineers and technicians dedicate themselves to research and related support activities, or are involved in administrative duties (in laboratories, regional offices, or CNRS headquarters). Like researchers, engineers and technicians are recruited through competitive entry examination, or as contract employees.

Film produced by the CNRS. Animation: Nina Demortreux and Nicolas Mifsud. Music: “A Difficult Start” by Julien Vega, edited by Frederic Leibovitz

Training through research

Training for and through research is one of the missions of the CNRS. Each year, more than 500 young scientists begin a PhD at the CNRS. Recruited through a doctoral contract, PhD candidates are under the supervision of permanent researchers, and are fully integrated in laboratory teams. Approximately 1,700 PhD students of 80 different nationalities are preparing a thesis in a CNRS laboratory.

Assessing research

At the CNRS, the evaluation of public research is crucial, both for its actors, researchers, and for the public authorities that finance it, as well as for society, which has expectations and queries regarding scientific advances and their applications. This is an important issue in the context of international competition, public funding constraints, and societal evolution.

At the CNRS, assessment applies to the entire organisation, including its laboratories, researchers, engineers, and technicians. It relies on several criteria, such as scientific publications, awards, recognition from the scientific community, and technology transfer among others.

Evaluating the CNRS

In 2016, an international advisory committee evaluated all CNRS activities, following the institution’s completion of a self-evaluation covering both its scientific and research support activities. The advisory committee issued a report proposing analyses and recommendations for the main challenges facing the CNRS between now and 2025, pointing to its budget in particular.

Evaluating the laboratories

Joint research units are assessed every five years by an independent national governing body, the High Council for Evaluation of Research and Higher Education (Hcéres). Evaluations are completed by committees of experts from academia or the private sector, and their reports are made public. 

Hcéres website

Evaluating researchers

Researchers are evaluated and their careers monitored by the National Committee for Scientific Research (CoNRS), a collective governing body elected from among members of the scientific community. Each year, researchers present an activity report on the progress of their research, scientific publications, teaching and technology transfer activities.

Learn more about CoNRS

Peer review or “Peer to Peer”

The assessment of scientific activity and research traditionally relies on the principle of “peer review”. Researchers use qualitative criteria to evaluate one another, for example within the reading committees of scientific journals. These bodies, which are made up of researchers, decide whether the papers that are submitted to them should be published. 

The quality (originality, research impact, etc.) and quantity of published articles are then the subject of bibliometric studies, which are used alongside other criteria to evaluate researchers, laboratories and institutions. These studies are also considered by the organisations that conduct international institutional rankings (Scimago Institutions Ranking, Nature Index, etc.).

Sharing scientific information

Scientific and Technical Information, which gathers all research-derived information, is a valuable and necessary resource for researchers. A pioneer in the domain, the CNRS offers a complete range of services for higher education and research. At the same time, it is committed to developing open science that is accessible to the largest number of people.

The actors of scientific and technical information

The Scientific and Technical Information Department (DIST) implements the strategy on the production of scientific analyses, publications and data. It oversees the gathering, processing, archiving, and diffusion of documentary resources. It also provides laboratories with thematic and interdisciplinary portals for accessing these resources, as well as scientific monitoring tools. It takes part in the national debate on the transition to the digital age, and promotes knowledge sharing through open archives. The DIST leads a network of IST representatives in joint research units. It also publishes a wealth of material on scientific information news and strategy.

DIST publications (in French)

Bâtiment de l'Inist à Vandreuve-lès-Nancy
The Institute for Scientific and Technical Information (INIST), an intramural service unit of the CNRS in Vandœuvre-lès-Nancy (northeastern France), provides access to and promotes technology transfer for scientific production. Since 1989, it has been hea© DR

Essential services for research

Science is driven by science, and IST services are therefore essential to the activity of researchers, who need to access information on existing research in a particular field, analyse data, publish research results in scientific publications, and find applications for their work.

Global science at a click

The CNRS facilitates access to global scientific production through open archives and bibliographical databases. The organisation is the world’s second scientific producer, with more than 50,000 papers published each year (Scopus, Scimago, 2017).

Hal (Hyper articles online)
The objective of the multidisciplinary Hal open archive, which was created by the CNRS, is to share research results. It allows researchers to file research-level papers, whether published or not, in an open access database, as well as dissertations from French and foreign teaching and research institutions, or from public or private laboratories.

Découvrir Hal

Scopus
CNRS researchers have access to the Scopus and Web of Science bibliographical databases, published by Elsevier and Thomson Scientific, respectively. They allow researchers to gain a better understanding of what is being published, and to plan for new collaborations. They are also used for bibliometric analyses, which quantify the publications of researchers.

Open science, or free access to knowledge

The potential of digital technology has opened the way for a new knowledge dissemination system. Open science has been a game-changer, promoting greater knowledge sharing for the benefit of researchers and society. This involves giving freer and wider access to public research data and results. This free access is not only free of charge; it also requires more transparency and discussions surrounding scientific work.

The CNRS is deeply committed to this process, and brings together numerous actors around this issue at the national level. It is therefore in keeping with the priorities of the European Union, which seeks to open up and pool knowledge on a large scale.

Digital law: the contribution of the CNRS

The “Law for a Digital Republic” of October 7, 2016 is the first legislative text co-written with Internet users. The contribution of the CNRS, which largely inspired the legislators, promoted breakthrough advances for researchers, entitling them to publish, after a shorter embargo period, any articles related to research that is funded mostly by public funds. In addition, the law enables public sector researchers to explore both scientific and non-scientific material without prior authorisation from right-holders, as well as the data associated with such material (Text and Data Mining).