The Letter 4


After the modernization of the lecture and seminar rooms, the inauguration on 26 May 2009 of the renovated premises of the chemistry and biology departments and of the general library constitutes a new phase in the Collège de France's major renovation project.

The renovation of the 8,000 m² chemistry and biology laboratories was essential to provide researchers with adequate working and safety conditions. It breathed new life into a long tradition of research in the exact sciences on the Collège de France's Marcelin Berthelot campus, within the same walls that still resound with great names famous for major discoveries: Frédéric Joliot, Francis Perrin, Louis Leprince-Ringuet, Pierre- Gilles de Gennes, Alain Horeau, Jean Roche, Alfred Jost, François Morel - to cite but a few of those who are now deceased.

The Collège's renovation project was launched in 1991 under the impetus of André Miquel, then administrator, following the decision of President François Mitterrand to classify this operation as part of the mission of the President of the Republic's "Grands Travaux". Jacques Glowinski headed the project from beginning to end. Now honorary administrator, he has been charged by the Assembly of the Professors to pursue this mission. Without his skills, his aesthetic sense and his persistence, this splendid project would not have been completed so successfully.

The renovations were possible thanks to the decisive aid of the state, which financed most of the project despite many complex administrative and financial situations that the Ministry of Research and the Rectorat (state education office) helped us to solve. We also benefited from the assistance of the Mairie de Paris, the Ile-de-France Region - for renovating the animal house and the library -, and the Pierre and Marie Curie University - for equipment for our chemistry laboratories.

The support of our sponsors has been crucial. The Bettencourt-Schueller Foundation enabled us to complete the architectural project and to renovate the biology and chemistry laboratories, while the Sanofi- Aventis group participated in the acquisition of equipment for the biology laboratory. Finally, the Collège also used its own funds and maintenance budget to contribute to financing this complex operation.

The objective of the architectural project, designed by architect Jacques Ferrier in 2000, was to create continuity between buildings that were adjacent but had different levels and layouts. The idea was to rationally distribute circulation within and between the buildings, and to create common areas and a cafeteria. In addition the plan was to create a general library in the east wing of the main courtyard, with reserve collections in the basement, as well as a museumwalkway linking the library to the chemistry and biology building. Apart from Jacques Ferrier, architects Jean Bernhart and then Jean-Marie Coustère participated in the design and the work. The appointed project manager Technip TPS was involved in the entire operation from the outset. The contractor for all the renovations and conversions in this phase of the work was EMOC, a public-sector contractor specialized in building projects for cultural purposes.

The buildings inaugurated on 26 May house the CNRS chemistry and biology laboratories of the Collège de France: those of the Chair of Chemistry of Condensed Matter, held by Jacques Livage, and of the Chair of Morphogenetic Processes, held by Alain Prochiantz. They also house young research teams as well as a cellular imagery centre, large equipment for research on molecular structures, and a transgenic animal house. The building furthermore has a superb cafeteria and common areas, a common seminar room and conference rooms facilitating interaction between researchers.

The general library, run by Marie-Renée Cazabon, head librarian, has 2,000 m² of floor space and is equipped with state-of-art technologies, thanks to the support of Michel David-Weill. The Collège de France's collection of 120,000 books and its archives, currently stored off campus, will thus be able to return to the Marcelin Berthelot site and to be made available to its researchers.

All that remains is the final phase: the third stage of the work will concern the complete conversion of an additional 8,000 m² of laboratories devoted to chemistry and physics, as well as the creation of a centre for the holders of the Collège's annual Chairs and for foreign guest professors. This project, financed by the state in the framework of the State-Region Contract for 2007- 2012, with the support of the Bettencourt-Schueller Foundation, will be launched at the end of 2009 and is expected to be completed in 2012.

Once completed, the lecture halls, laboratories and libraries of the Collège de France will constitute an ideal infrastructure for research and teaching, in the heart of the Latin Quarter with its grandes écoles and universities. All the conditions will be met to nurture truly interdisciplinary research on this site: the diversity of disciplines - physics, chemistry and biology, as well as mathematics and informatics -, the quality of the laboratories, and the physical proximity of the various teams all facilitate access to the teaching imparted at the Collège de France.

We already have a foretaste of what is becoming possible. The arrival of new biology teams is leading to the creation of an interdisciplinary biological research centre with the teams present on site. A call for applications from young biological research teams has recently been put out, so that new researchers can benefit from the excellent working conditions and the Collège's technical facilities. The two young INSERM teams of Christian Giaume and Guy Tran Van Nhieu have moved onto these premises. The first contacts between researchers in chemistry and biology, who arrived recently, have opened new, as yet unexplored research fields. An example? How are the siliceous envelopes formed in the case of diatoms, those plankton micro-algae on which Jacques Livage's and Clément Sanchez's chemists are working? Can their surprising process of bio-mineralization allow for an original encapsulation of biologically active products, or even of cells? Can molecular guides be made to stimulate the plasticity of cerebral tissue, based on the discovery of Alain Prochiantz and his team, concerning a new mode of signalling between cells?

Without any doubt, all these efforts will bear fruit. It is no exaggeration to say that with these renovated infrastructures and this large-scale re-organization, it is really the dawn of a new age of research at the Collège de France. On behalf of our institution, I would like to thank the many people - at the Collège and amongst its partners and service providers - who, in one way or another, have contributed to the success of this operation that has created an exceptional working environment for the researchers at the Collège de France.

Professor Pierre Corvol
Administrator of the Collège de France