Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS)


Centre national de la recherche scientifique – National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) – was created in October 1939, in the early days of World War II, in order to encourage and to coordinate research at the national level in France. If its origins may be traced as early as the 1870s, the conditions of its founding were met in the late 1930s, during and after the Popular Front coalition, at the initiative of physicist and Nobel Prize winner Jean Perrin. After 1945, it has developed in all scientific fields, becoming in the 1960s and 1970s a top‐leading institution for basic research as well as for research related to the needs of society. Today the CNRS has more than 30 000 scientists, engineers and technicians, and 1200 laboratories, brought together in 10 institutes under the direction of its president, chemist Alain Fuchs.

Key Concepts

  • The CNRS is the largest public research organisation in France and the largest basic science agency in Europe.

  • The CNRS has contributed to the emergence of a national scientific policy in France.

  • Valorisation has become a major objective for the CNRS.

  • The CNRS is designed to encourage interdisciplinary research.

  • The mission of the CNRS is to evaluate and carry out all research capable of advancing knowledge and bringing social, cultural, and economic benefits for society.

Keywords: France; CNRS; public research; interdisciplinarity; international collaboration; basic research; valorisation; Jean Perrin; Charles de Gaulle

Figure 1.

Jean Perrin (1870–1942), founder of the CNRS in 1939 (© CNRS Photothèque, Fonds ancien).

Figure 2.

Irène (1897–1956) and Frédéric (1900–1958) Joliot‐Curie, awarded Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1935 (© CNRS Photothèque, Fonds ancien).

Figure 3.

Biologist Georges Teissier (1900–1972), Director General of the CNRS from 1946 to 1950 (© CNRS Photothèque, Fonds ancien).

Figure 4.

Charles de Gaulle visiting the CNRS Aimé Cotton Laboratory in 1965 (© CNRS Photothèque, Fonds ancien).

Figure 5.

Scientific Research Minister Hubert Curien, President François Mitterrand, and Biologist François Kourilsky, Director General of the CNRS from 1988 to 1994, at CNRS's 50th anniversary in 1989 (© CNRS Photothèque, Fonds ancien).



Blay M (2011) Quand la recherche était une république. La recherche scientifique à la Libération. Paris: Armand Colin.

Burian RM and Gayon J (1990) Genetics after World War II. The Laboratories at Gif‐sur‐Yvette. Cahiers pour l'histoire du CNRS 7: 25–48. http://www.histcnrs.fr/histoire‐genetique/burian‐gayon.html

Chatriot A and Duclert V (2006) Le Gouvernement de la Recherche. Histoire d'un Engagement Politique, de Pierre Mendès France à Charles de Gaulle (1953–1969). Paris: La Découverte.

Dosso D (2000) The rescue of french scientists. Respective roles of the Rockefeller Foundation and the Biochemist Louis Rapkine (1904–1948). In: Gemelli G (ed.) The “Unacceptables”: American Foundations and Refugee Scholars between the Two Wars and After, pp. 195–215. Brussels: Peter Lang.

Fossey J (2003) L'évaluation scientifique au CNRS. Revue pour l'histoire du CNRS 8: 78–84. http://histoire‐cnrs.revues.org/559

Gilpin R (1968) France in the Age of Scientific State. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Griset P and Picard JF (2014) Au cœur du vivant. 50 ans de l'Inserm. Paris: Cherche Midi Ed.

Guthleben D (2006) The Center's involvement in war scientific effort. Revue pour l'histoire du CNRS 14: 84–89. http://histoire‐cnrs.revues.org/1844

Guthleben D (2007) Sunburn on the CNRS. The Genesis of the Interdisciplinary Research Program for the Development of Solar Energy. Revue pour l'histoire du CNRS 17: 36–39. http://histoire‐cnrs.revues.org/2221

Guthleben D (2013) CNRS‐industrie: un mariage de raison. In: Fridenson P and Griset P (eds) Entreprises de haute technologie, État et souveraineté depuis 1945, pp. 85–98. Paris: Comité pour l'histoire économique et financière de la France. http://books.openedition.org/igpde/1875?lang=en

Guthleben D (2014) Laboratories at war. CNRS International Magazine 33: 25–27. http://www.cnrs.fr/fr/pdf/cim/33/pubData/source/CIM33.pdf

Hermès (2013) Disciplines, Institutes, and Interdisciplinarity at the CNRS. 3: 188–191 (Paris, CNRS Editions). http://www.cairn.info/resume.php?ID_ARTICLE=HERM_067_0188

Le Roux M (2006) Hommage à Pierre Potier. Rayonnement du CNRS 41: 5–27. http://www.rayonnementducnrs.com/bulletin/b41/potier.pdf

Morange M (2002) The Institute of Physico‐Chemical Biology: from Foundation to Entrance in the Molecular Era (1927–1960). Revue pour l'histoire du CNRS 7: 32–40. http://histoire‐cnrs.revues.org/538

Pasteur L (1871) Quelques réflexions sur la science en France. Paris: Gauthier‐Villars.

Zay J (2010) Souvenirs et solitude. Paris: Belin.

Further Reading

Cahiers pour l'histoire du CNRS (1988–1990), Paris, CNRS Editions, 10 vols. http://www.histcnrs.fr/sommaire‐cahiers.html

Charpentier‐Morize M (1997) Jean Perrin, savant et homme politique. Paris: Belin.

Guthleben D (2009) Histoire du CNRS de 1939 à nos jours. Une ambition nationale pour la science. Paris: Armand Colin.

Histoire de la recherche contemporaine (2012–today). Paris, CNRS Editions. http://hrc.revues.org/

Krige J (2006) Americain Hegemony and the Postwar Reconstruction of Science in Europe. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Papon P (1979) Le pouvoir et la science en France. Paris: Centurion.

Paul HW (1985) From Knowledge to Power. The Rise of the Science Empire in France (1860–1939). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Picard JF (1990) La République des Savants. La recherche française et le CNRS. Paris: Flammarion.

Pinault M (2000) Frédéric Joliot‐Curie. Paris: Odile Jacob.

Pinault M (2006) La science au Parlement. Les débuts d'une politique des recherches scientifiques en France. Paris: CNRS Editions.

Revue pour l'histoire du CNRS (1999–2010, 26 volumes). http://histoire‐cnrs.revues.org/

Contact Editor close
Submit a note to the editor about this article by filling in the form below.

* Required Field

How to Cite close
Guthleben, Denis(Nov 2014) Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS). In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. http://www.els.net [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0003556.pub2]