French National Centre for Scientific Research

French National Centre for Scientific Research

The National Center of Scientific Research (Centre national de la recherche scientifique or CNRS)[1] is the largest governmental research organization in France[2] and the largest fundamental science agency in Europe.[3]

It involves 26,000 permanent employees (researchers, engineers, and administrative staff) and 6,000 temporary workers.



Following a 2009 reform, the CNRS is divided into 10 institutes:

  • Institute of Chemistry (INC)
  • Institute of Ecology and Environment (INEE)
  • Institute of Physics (INP)
  • National Institute of Nuclear and Particle Physics (IN2P3)
  • Institute of Biological Sciences (INSB)
  • Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences (INSHS)
  • Institute for Computer Sciences (INS2I)
  • Institute for Engineering and Systems Sciences (INSIS)
  • Institute for Mathematical Sciences (INSMI)
  • National Institute for Earth Sciences and Astronomy (INSU)
CNRS logo

Previously, it was divided into INSU, IN2P3 and "scientific departments".

The National Commission for Scientific Research (CN), which is in charge of the recruitment and evaluation of researchers, is divided into 47 sections (e.g. section 1 is mathematics; section 7 is computer science and control). Research groups are affiliated with one primary institute and optional secondary institute; the researchers themselves belong to one section.

For administrative purposes, CNRS includes 18 regional divisions (including four just for the region of Paris).

CNRS runs its research units either independently or in association with other institutions, including those in higher education. In French these units are called laboratoires informally and unités de recherche in administrative parlance. The research groups are either operated solely by CNRS (and then known as unités propres de recherche or UPR or as mixed organizations (unités mixtes de recherche or UMR. Each research unit has a unique numeric code attached and is headed by a director (typically, a university professor or CNRS research director). A research unit may be divided into groups.

CNRS also has support groups: UPS (unités propres de service), or UMS (unités mixtes de service). A UPS or UMS may for instance supply administrative, computing, library or engineering services.

Currently CNRS researchers are active in 1,256 research groups, 85 percent of which are jointly run and also include non-CNRS researchers. The prevalence of such "mixed" research groups is an unusual characteristic of the French system. This mixing may hinder those outside the French higher education system from properly attributing works, since each laboratory may have many different names (UMR code, full name, acronym, CNRS address, university address, department inside university address).

The headquarters of CNRS are in the Campus Gérard Mégie, rue Michel-Ange, in the 16th arrondissement of Paris. (48°50′52″N 2°15′51″E / 48.847719°N 2.264065°E / 48.847719; 2.264065)


Researchers who are permanent members of CNRS are classified in two categories, in order of seniority:

  • Research associates (chargés de recherche): 2nd class (CR2), 1st class (CR1).
  • Research directors (directeurs de recherche): 2nd class (DR2), 1st class (DR1), exceptional class (DR0, also known as DRCE).

Theoretically, research directors tend to head research groups, but this is not a general rule (a research associate can head a group or even a laboratory).

Employees for support activities include research engineers, studies engineers, assistant engineers and technicians. Contrary to what the name would imply, these can have administrative employments (e.g. a secretary can be "technician", an administrative manager of a laboratory an "assistant engineer").

All permanent employees (research engineers, technical and administrative personnel) are recruited through annual nationwide competitive campaigns. Following a 1983 reform, the candidates selected have the status of civil servants and are part of the fonction publique.

International relations

CNRS is represented through administrative centers in Brussels, Beijing, Tokyo, Hanoi, Washington, D.C., Bonn, Moscow, Tunis, Johannesburg, Santiago de Chile and New Delhi.


The centre was created on October 19, 1939 by decree of President Albert Lebrun. Since 1954, the centre has annually awarded gold, silver, and bronze medals to French scientists and junior researchers. In 1966, the organisation underwent structural changes, which resulted in the creation of two specialised institutes: the National Astronomy and Geophysics Institute in 1967, which became the National Institute of Sciences of the Universe (INSU) in 1985, and the National Institute of Nuclear and Particle Physics (IN2P3) in 1971.

The performance of CNRS has been brought into question, with calls for wide-ranging reforms. In particular, the effectiveness of the recruitment, compensation, career management, and evaluation procedures were under scrutiny. Governmental projects include the transformation of CNRS into an organ allocating support to research projects on an ad hoc basis, and the reallocation of the CNRS researchers to the universities. Another controversial plan advanced by the government involves breaking up CNRS into six separate institutes.[4][5]


Alain Fuchs was appointed president on January 20, 2010. His position subsumes the previous positions of president and director general.

Past presidents

  • René Pellat: 1989–1992
  • Edouard Brezin: 1992–2000
  • Gérard Mégie: 2000–2004
  • Bernard Meunier: 2004–2006
  • Catherine Bréchignac (January 11, 2006 – January 19, 2010)

Past directors general

  • Jean Coulomb: 1957–1962
  • Hubert Curien: 1969–1973
  • Robert Chabbal: 1976–1980
  • Pierre Papon: 1982–1986
  • François Kourilsky: 1988–1994
  • Guy Aubert: 1994–1997
  • Catherine Bréchignac: 1997–2000
  • Geneviève Berger: 2000–2003
  • Bernard Larrouturou: 2003–2006
  • Arnold Migus: (January 18, 2006 – January 19, 2010)

Some selected CNRS laboratories

See also


External links

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