French National Centre for Scientific Research

French research organisation

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Centre national de la recherche scientifique
Formation 19 October 1939; 84 years ago (1939-10-19)
Type Governmental organisation
Purpose Fundamental research
Headquarters Campus Gérard Mégie, 16th arrondissement of Paris
Official language
Antoine Petit [fr]
Main organ
Comité national de la recherche scientifique
3.8 billion (2021)[1]
33,000 (2021)[1]

The French National Centre for Scientific Research (French: Centre national de la recherche scientifique, CNRS) is the French state research organisation[2] and is the largest fundamental science agency in Europe.[3]

In 2016, it employed 31,637 staff, including 11,137 tenured researchers, 13,415 engineers and technical staff, and 7,085 contractual workers.[4] It is headquartered in Paris and has administrative offices in Brussels, Beijing, Tokyo, Singapore, Washington, D.C., Bonn, Moscow, Tunis, Johannesburg, Santiago de Chile, Israel, and New Delhi.[5]

From 2009 to 2016, the CNRS was ranked No. 1 worldwide by the SCImago Institutions Rankings (SIR), an international ranking of research-focused institutions, including universities, national research centers, and companies such as Facebook or Google.[6] The CNRS ranked No. 2 between 2017 and 2021, then No. 3 in 2022 in the same SIR, after the Chinese Academy of Sciences and before universities such as Harvard University, MIT, or Stanford University.[7] The CNRS was ranked No. 3 in 2015 and No. 4 in 2017 by the Nature Index, which measures the largest contributors to papers published in 82 leading journals.[8][9][10] In May 2021, the CNRS ranked No. 2 in the Nature Index, before the Max Planck Society and Harvard University.[11]


The CNRS operates on the basis of research units, which are of two kinds: “proper units” (UPRs) are operated solely by the CNRS, and Joint Research Units (UMRs – French: Unité mixte de recherche)[12] are run in association with other institutions, such as universities or INSERM. Members of Joint Research Units may be either CNRS researchers or university employees (maîtres de conférences or professeurs). Each research unit has a numeric code attached and is typically headed by a university professor or a CNRS research director. A research unit may be subdivided into research groups (“équipes”). The CNRS also has support units, which may, for instance, supply administrative, computing, library, or engineering services.

In 2016, the CNRS had 952 Joint Research Units, 32 proper research units, 135 service units, and 36 international units.[4]

The CNRS is divided into 10 national institutes:[3]

  • Institute of Chemistry (INC)
  • Institute of Ecology and Environment (INEE)
  • Institute of Physics (INP) [fr]
  • 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)
  • Institute for Earth Sciences and Astronomy (INSU)

The National Committee for Scientific Research, which is in charge of the recruitment and evaluation of researchers, is divided into 47 sections (e.g. Section 41 is mathematics, Section 7 is computer science and control, and so on).[13] Research groups are affiliated with one primary institute and an optional secondary institute; the researchers themselves belong to one section. For administrative purposes, the CNRS is divided into 18 regional divisions (including four for the Paris region).

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Researchers who are permanent employees of the CNRS, equivalent to lifelong research fellows in English-speaking countries, are classified in two categories, each subdivided into two or three classes, and each class is divided into several pay grades.[14]

Scientist (chargé de recherches) Senior scientist (directeur de recherche)
Normal class (CRCN) Hors classe (CRHC) Second class (DR2) First class (DR1) Exceptional class (DRCE)

In principle, research directors tend to head research groups, but this is not a general rule (a research scientist can head a group or even a laboratory and some research directors do not head a group).

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

Following a 1983 reform, the candidates selected have the status of civil servants and are part of the public service.


All permanent support employees are recruited through annual nationwide competitive campaigns (concours). Separate competitives campaigns are held in each of the forty disciplinary fields covered by the institution and organized in sections. In the context of the competition, the section is made up of an eligibility jury, which reads the application files, selects some for the orals, holds the orals, and draws up a ranked list of potential candidates, submitted to the admission jury, which validates (or not) this ranking; the admission jury can make adjustments within this list. At the end of the admissions jury, the results are announced.

The competition is governed by very strict, well-defined legal rules, including the sovereignty and impartiality of the jury and the rules governing conflicts of interest: candidates are strictly forbidden to have any contact with a member of the jury, and no one may put pressure on the jury in any way whatsoever. If a member of the jury belongs to the candidate’s family, he or she may not sit on the jury. The same applies if a candidate has worked extensively with one of the jury members over the past two years, or has a direct and regular relationship with him or her.

In 2020, the average age at recruitment was 33.9 years for chargés de recherche (research fellows), with wide variations between sections (in the humanities and social sciences, it was 36.3 years).[15]

In 2020, the average recruitment rate was 21.3 applicants for each single open position, again with variations to this rate between sections. The most competitive sections are usually Section 2 (theoretical physics), Section 35 (literature, philosophy and philology), Section 36 (sociology and law), and Section 40 (political science). In 2023, in Section 35, there were 158 applicants for four open positions, hence a recruitment rate of 2.53%. By comparison, Section 12 (molecular chemistry) received 33 applications for five open positions.[16]


The CNRS was created on 19 October 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 in 1985) and the Institut national de physique nucléaire et de physique des particules (IN2P3; English: National Institute of Nuclear and Particle Physics) in 1971.

Reform proposals[edit]

The effectiveness of the recruitment, compensation, career management, and evaluation procedures of CNRS have been under scrutiny. Governmental projects include the transformation of the CNRS into an organization allocating support to research projects on an ad hoc basis and the reallocation of CNRS researchers to universities. Another controversial plan advanced by the government involves breaking up the CNRS into six separate institutes. These modifications, which were again proposed in 2021 by think tanks such as the Institut Montaigne,[17] have been massively rejected by French scientists, leading to multiple protests.[18][19] Important reforms were also recommended in the 2023 assessment report of the HCERES.[20]


Past presidents[edit]

Past directors general[edit]

Past and current president director general (CEO)[edit]

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

Antoine Petit, current CEO of the CNRS

Notable people[edit]

Several of the French Nobel Prize winners were employed by the CNRS, particularly at the start of their careers, and most worked in university laboratories associated with the CNRS.

Nobel laureates in Physics[edit]

  • 1966: Alfred Kastler, École normale supérieure (research director at CNRS from 1968 to 1972);
  • 1970: Louis Néel, director of the Electrostatics and Metal Physics Laboratory (Grenoble) from 1946 to 1970;
  • 1991: Pierre-Gilles de Gennes, Collège de France, Higher School of Industrial Physics and Chemistry;
  • 1992: Georges Charpak, Higher School of Industrial Physics and Chemistry and CERN (CNRS researcher from 1948 to 1959);
  • 1997: Claude Cohen-Tannoudji, Collège de France and École normale supérieure (CNRS research associate from 1960 to 1962);
  • 2007: Albert Fert, CNRS/Thales UMR, jointly with Peter Grünberg (German physicist);
  • 2012: Serge Haroche, Collège de France (administrator), University of Paris-VI (from 1975 to 2001), CNRS (from 1967 to 1975).
  • 2022: Alain Aspect, CNRS research director emeritus, professor at the École normale supérieure Paris-Saclay, the École polytechnique and the Institut d’optique Graduate School.

Nobel laureates in Physiology or Medicine[edit]

  • 2008: Luc Montagnier, Professor Emeritus at the Institut Pasteur, Viral Oncology Unit, honorary research director at the CNRS and member of the Academies of Sciences and Medicine. Price in common with Françoise Barré-Sinoussi and Harald zur Hausen;
  • 2011: Jules Hoffmann, Emeritus Research Director, Institute of Molecular and Cellular Biology (University of Strasbourg).

Nobel laureates in Chemistry[edit]

  • 1987: Jean-Marie Lehn, University of Strasbourg and Collège de France (CNRS researcher from 1960 to 1966);
  • 2016: Jean-Pierre Sauvage, University of Strasbourg (Researcher at CNRS from 1971 to 2014).

Fields Medal[edit]

  • Among the French mathematicians who obtained the Fields medal, only Jean-Christophe Yoccoz and Cédric Villani seem never to have been employed by the CNRS (they did, however, work in units associated with the CNRS).
  • 1950: Laurent Schwartz, University of Nancy (CNRS scholarship holder from 1940 to 1944 at the University of Toulouse);
  • 1954: Jean-Pierre Serre, Collège de France (attached, then in charge, then research professor at the CNRS from 1948 to 1954);
  • 1958: René Thom, University of Strasbourg (CNRS researcher from 1946 to 1953??);
  • 1966 Alexandre Grothendieck, University of Paris (research associate at CNRS from 1950 to 1953);
  • 1982: Alain Connes, Institute of Advanced Scientific Studies (intern, then attached, then research fellow at the CNRS from 1970 to 1974);
  • 1994: Pierre-Louis Lions, Paris-Dauphine University (CNRS research associate from 1979 to 1981);
  • 2002: Laurent Lafforgue, Institute of Advanced Scientific Studies (CNRS research fellow from 1990 to 2000 at Paris-XI);
  • 2006: Wendelin Werner, Paris-Sud 11 University (CNRS research fellow from 1991 to 1997 at Paris-VI then ENS);
  • 2014: Artur Ávila, Jussieu Institute of Mathematics -Paris Rive Gauche (research fellow then research director since 2003);
  • 2018: Alessio Figalli, who began his career in 2007 at the Jean-Alexandre Dieudonné mathematics laboratory (CNRS-UCA).

Other distinctions[edit]

  • 2003: the Business Delegation receives the European Grand Prix for Innovation Awards, European innovation prize for scientific organizations;
  • 2003: Jean-Pierre Serre wins the Abel Prize (researcher at the CNRS from 1948 to 1954);
  • 2007: Joseph Sifakis, Turing Award (highest distinction in computer science, considered the Nobel Prize in this field). He is research director at the CNRS in the Verimag laboratory which he founded.

See also[edit]


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  1. ^ a b .mw-parser-output cite.citation{font-style:inherit;word-wrap:break-word}.mw-parser-output .citation q{quotes:”””””””‘””‘”}.mw-parser-output .citation:target{background-color:rgba(0,127,255,0.133)}.mw-parser-output a{background:url(“//”)right 0.1em center/9px no-repeat}body:not(.skin-timeless):not(.skin-minerva) .mw-parser-output .id-lock-free a{background-size:contain}.mw-parser-output a,.mw-parser-output a{background:url(“//”)right 0.1em center/9px no-repeat}body:not(.skin-timeless):not(.skin-minerva) .mw-parser-output .id-lock-limited a,body:not(.skin-timeless):not(.skin-minerva) .mw-parser-output .id-lock-registration a{background-size:contain}.mw-parser-output a{background:url(“//”)right 0.1em center/9px no-repeat}body:not(.skin-timeless):not(.skin-minerva) .mw-parser-output .id-lock-subscription a{background-size:contain}.mw-parser-output .cs1-ws-icon a{background:url(“//”)right 0.1em center/12px no-repeat}body:not(.skin-timeless):not(.skin-minerva) .mw-parser-output .cs1-ws-icon a{background-size:contain}.mw-parser-output .cs1-code{color:inherit;background:inherit;border:none;padding:inherit}.mw-parser-output .cs1-hidden-error{display:none;color:#d33}.mw-parser-output .cs1-visible-error{color:#d33}.mw-parser-output .cs1-maint{display:none;color:#2C882D;margin-left:0.3em}.mw-parser-output .cs1-format{font-size:95%}.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-left{padding-left:0.2em}.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-right{padding-right:0.2em}.mw-parser-output .citation .mw-selflink{font-weight:inherit} .mw-parser-output .cs1-maint{color:#18911F} .mw-parser-output .cs1-visible-error, .mw-parser-output .cs1-hidden-error{color:#f8a397}@media(prefers-color-scheme:dark){ .mw-parser-output .cs1-visible-error, .mw-parser-output .cs1-hidden-error{color:#f8a397} .mw-parser-output .cs1-maint{color:#18911F}}“CNRS Key figures”. CNRS. Archived from the original on 28 December 2016. Retrieved 18 January 2017.
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  3. ^ a b Butler, Declan (2008). “France’s research agency splits up”. Nature. 453 (7195): 573. Bibcode:2008Natur.453…..B. doi:10.1038/453573a. PMID 18509403.
  4. ^ a b CNRS (2016). “2016 activity report” (PDF). Retrieved 9 December 2017.
  5. ^ Direction Europe de la recherche et coopération internationale. “Carte des bureaux”. Retrieved 9 December 2017.
  6. ^ “Research and Innovation Rankings 2009”. Retrieved 20 December 2022.
  7. ^ “Research and Innovation Rankings 2022”. Retrieved 20 December 2022.
  8. ^ “Ten institutions that dominated science in 2015”. 20 April 2016. Retrieved 28 May 2019.
  9. ^ “10 institutions that dominated science in 2017”. 12 June 2018. Retrieved 28 May 2019.
  10. ^ “Introduction to the Nature Index”. Retrieved 28 May 2019.
  11. ^ “Institution outputs”. Nature Index. 23 November 2017.
  12. ^ “INSMI – Institut national des sciences mathématiques et de leurs interactions – Joint Research Units (UMR)”. CNRS. Retrieved 10 October 2019.
  13. ^ “CoNRS – Sections – Intitulés”. (in French). Retrieved 9 December 2017.
  14. ^ “CNRS – Concours chercheurs – s’informer sur les concours”. Retrieved 20 February 2018.
  15. ^ “BILAN DE LA CAMPAGNE CHERCHEURS 2020” (PDF). Retrieved 31 August 2023.
  16. ^ “Classements d’admissibilité au concours CNRS 2023 | C3N – Coordination des responsables des instances du comité national”.
  17. ^ “The French Brief – Impetus for Reform: Higher Education and Research in France”. Institut Montaigne.
  18. ^ Everts, Sarah (2 June 2008). “Latest News – Scientists Protest in France”. Chemical & Engineering News. 86 (22): 13. doi:10.1021/cen-v086n022.p013a. Retrieved 16 December 2011.
  19. ^ Stafford, Ned (5 June 2008). “Chemists give cautious welcome for French science reforms”. Chemistry World. Retrieved 16 December 2011.
  20. ^ “Publication of the assessment report of the CNRS”. Hcéres. 20 November 2023. Retrieved 24 January 2024.
  21. ^ Chimie, Info (13 November 2017). “Anne Peyroche, présidente par intérim du CNRS – Info Chimie”. (in French). Retrieved 27 May 2018.

External links[edit]

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