CNRS's long tradition of excellence is reinforced by its 19 Nobel laureates and 11 Fields Medal award winners. A number of eminent researchers have worked, for at least some part of their career, at one of CNRS's many laboratories.
- Jean Perrin, CNRS founder, Nobel prize in Physics, 1926,
- Frédéric Joliot-Curie, first director general after WWII, Nobel prize in Chemistry, 1935.
And more recently:
- Physics: Alfred Kastler (1966), Louis Née (1970), Pierre-Gilles de Gennes (1991), Georges Charpak (1992), Claude Cohen-Tannoudji (1997), Albert Fert (2007), Serge Haroche (2012)
- Chemistry: Jean-Marie Lehn (1987), Yves Chauvin (2005), Martin Karplus (2013)
- Biology and medicine: André Lwoff, Jacques Monod and François Jacob (1965), Jean Dausset (1980), Luc Montagnier (2008), Jules Hoffman (2011),
- Economics: Maurice Allais (1988).
The international Abel Prize rewards a mathematician's outstanding work and contribution to the numerous fields of mathematics. Launched in 2003, it is awarded each year by the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters. Selection of the laureate is based on the recommendation of the Abel Committee, composed of five mathematicians of international repute.
Jean-Pierre Serre was the first Abel prize laureate in 2003.
The Fields Medal recognizes young mathematicians' outstanding contribution to the discipline. Handed out every four years at the International Congress of Mathematicians, this distinction rewards a maximum of four mathematicians aged less than 40 as of the 1st January of the year concerned.
Field Medal laureates who have worked at CNRS in the course of their career include:
Laurent Schwartz (1950), Jean-Pierre Serre (1954), René Thom (1958), Alexandre Grothendieck (1966), Alain Connes (1982), Pierre-Louis Lions and Jean-Christophe Yoccoz (1994), Laurent Lafforgue (2002), Wendelin Werner (2006), Ngô Bao Châu and Cédric Villani in 2010.
The Turing Award, often recognized as the "Nobel Prize of computing" is given annually by the Association for Computing Machinery to "an individual selected for contributions of a technical nature made to the computing community. The contributions should be of lasting and major technical importance to the computer field".
In 2007, Joseph Sifakis is the first French researcher to have received this award
since it was created in 1966.