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Nanotech at CNRS


© N. Tiget/CNRS Photothèque

Michel Lannoo,
CNRS advisor for nanoscience and nanotechnology.

Nanoscience and nanotechnology aim to create, control, and above all, use objects or sets of objects of extremely small size—close to the atomic or molecular scale. At this scale, matter presents novel properties that can be used for a host of new applications. While in general nanoscience mostly focuses on the knowledge we can obtain from such systems, nanotechnology is centered on their applications in industrial or medical fields.
Though often believed to have resulted from a sudden revolution, the field has in fact evolved over decades. And during those years, important discoveries paved the way for today's scientific advances: major breakthroughs in instrumentation, manipulation at the atomic level, together with continuous progress in surface science, colloids, interfaces, aggregates and more generally new findings in materials science. To these can be added miniaturization in micro- and nanoelectronics, the manufacturing of micro- and nanosystems, and the field's increasing importance to biology.
The creation of the American NNI (National Nanotechnology Initiative) in the year 2000 played an important role in pushing research towards more technological applications. By stressing this emerging field's vast potential for innovation, the NNI implied that nanotechnology was key to economic development in the 21st century. Truly interdisciplinary, nanoscience and nanotechnology carry a major potential for innovations to address the many issues facing today's society: health (by creating better medical applications), information and communication technologies, sustainable development and the environment, or energy production and storage, to name but a few.
In this context, CNRS is a major player in the field, as illustrated by the 2007 Nobel Prize laureate Albert Fert. Its strategy, centered around scientific creativity and innovation, benefits from its interdisciplinarity, which is essential to developments in nanoscience and nanotechnology. With close to 5000 researchers involved in the field, spread across intramural or joint laboratories, 7 large technological facilities and 9 local facilities shared by several laboratories, CNRS is one of the largest contributors to French research in nanoscience.
France's coordination in nanoscience has been bolstered by the creation of six competence centers—called “C'Nanos”—which form a support network for the scientific community on a national scale. The ANR—France's research funding agency—continues to play an important role by financing and supporting projects in the discipline. A recently launched government program in nanoscience research—”Nano-Inov”—is dedicated to boosting industrial innovation and transfer via three “integration” centers (Grenoble, Saclay, and Toulouse).
But nanoscience and nanotechnology have also raised public concern. A responsible approach within the field requires scientists to work diligently, in terms of traceability, ethics, and public information. As a major European interdisciplinary institution, CNRS must play a leading role in safeguarding these ethics, and anticipating the far-reaching consequences of such research. In this context, it has recently created the Strategic Unit for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology, which will not only promote and develop nanoscience research, but also assess and examine all the relevant ethical issues associated.


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