Chemistry Institute

The Institute of Chemistry at the Collège de France is the combination of three Professorial Chairs and three associated laboratories located on the Marcelin Berthelot site. It comprises the Chair in Chemistry of Biological Processes held by Professor Marc Fontecave, who heads the Chemistry of Biological Processes Laboratory, a Mixed Research Unit (UMR 8229 Collège de France – CNRS – Pierre and Marie Curie University); Jean-Marie Tarascon, holder of the Chair in Chemistry of Materials and Energy, heads the Chemistry of Materials and Energy research lab (FRE 3677 Collège de France – CNRS – Pierre and Marie Curie University); Clément Sanchez, holder of the Chair in Chemistry of Hybrid Materials, heads a research team within the Paris Chemistry of Condensed Matter lab (UMR 7574 Collège de France – CNRS – Pierre and Marie Curie University).

Through this institute, the Collège de France aims to host an excellence research center in chemistry based on a combination of three Chairs/laboratories. Building on its significant activity in the field of molecule, macromolecule and original materials synthesis and development, as well as on knowledge of their characterization through modern chemical analysis tools, the Institute of Chemistry is particularly keen to work strategically in the areas of catalysis, biocatalysis and new energy technologies, from basic research to concrete applications. Specifically, the target is to develop bio-inspired molecular systems, enzyme systems as well as inorganic and hybrid (nano)materials featuring catalytic, photocatalytic and electrocatalytic properties efficient enough to be perfected for use in new high-tech devices (batteries, electrolysers and photo-electrolysers). Collaborations with teams from the Center for Interdisciplinary Research in Biology (Centre Interdisciplinaire de Recherches en Biologie, CIRB) and those of the Institute of Physics, also located at the Marcelin Berthelot site, facilitate the development of chemistry projects at the interface with biology and physics.

The Collège de France is actively involved in the effort to structure and support chemistry developed by Paris Sciences et Lettres (PSL), along with the ENS Chemistry Department, Institut Curie chemistry laboratories and prestigious engineering schools ESPCI and Chimie Paris Tech. The Institute of Chemistry at the Collège de France is also associated with the research policy conducted by the Pierre and Marie Curie University through joint units. At the heart of Paris, this wealth of diversity generates the potential for outstanding developments to emerge in chemistry, both in the field of basic research and in engineering. This dual orientation will certainly have an interesting impact on the training of young chemists (masters, PhDs, engineers) as well as on relations with industry, all of which should allow for more active innovation and enhancement policies.

At the interface of chemistry and biology, the laboratory headed by Marc Fontecave studies complex enzyme systems found in living organisms and involved in metabolic and biosynthetic reactions, biosynthesis of essential organic and inorganic cofactors, hydrogen biosynthesis and selective modification of nucleic acids in order to gain a better understanding of their mechanisms and structure. The structural characterization of these biomolecular assemblies is central to the laboratory’s work, with support from a unique protein crystallography platform housed in the Collège de France’s facilities. These systems are also examined with a view to their potential applications: therapeutic targeting or biocatalysts, the latter particularly for energy conversion devices. At the same time, the lab is developing original approaches in the field of bioinspired chemistry, designed to chemically mimic the active sites of key enzymes and metalloenzymes. The concept expands development capabilities of systems such as “artificial photosynthesis” capable of using solar energy to turn water into hydrogen or carbon dioxide into fuel, thus allowing the storage of intermittent renewable energy in the form of chemical energy.

Solid state chemistry plays a major role in developments for the chemical industry. Today’s new solids must be ever-more sophisticated, miniaturized, robust, recyclable, environmentally friendly, energy efficient and inexpensive. Jean-Marie Tarascon works in this area, particularly through his innovative research on energy storage. Based on recent advances in reaction mechanisms, his laboratory is developing inexpensive, efficient new materials for the design of original electrodes for use in electric vehicle batteries. In the interests of environmental compatibility, it is also examining alternative technologies such as sodium-ion or even metal-air batteries, as well as organic materials derived from biomass (sugars, organic acids) in the design of renewable “green” electrodes. Lastly, the group is also taking a keen interest in the creation of synergies between electrode materials and electrocatalysts in order to develop value-added materials for water electrolysis based on new reaction principles.

Clément Sanchez is an expert in the chemistry of inorganic and hybrid materials. His lab develops new synthesis methods allowing access to hybrid materials and original nanomaterials to address major challenges in today’s world. “Soft chemistry” methods are a particular focus: starting with molecular precursors – including biologically-sourced ones – they allow control of the crystal structure, uniformity, size, porosity and morphology of the resulting materials. This type of bioinspired chemistry requires specific conditions of temperature, pressure and solvents to allow the incorporation of organic or biological molecules into multiscale functional materials. Research calls upon multiple skills in materials characterization: solid-state NMR, X-ray diffraction and scattering, various types of microscopy, the use of synchrotron radiation for operando studies, or interface analysis and modelling. The laboratory’s projects are focused on technological developments and applications in the fields of energy (materials for catalysis and photocatalysis, photoelectrodes, fuel cells, etc.) and healthcare (imaging, vectors for drug targeting and theranostics, biomaterials).