More than 70 years of macromolecular science in Strasbourg
Since the turn of the 20th century many
synthetic polymers like bakelite, nylon, and glues (just to name a few) have been
part of our daily life to satisfy different needs. In 1945, an atypical scientist
named Charles Sadron got interested in the world of macromolecules, and as a
visionary physicist, he had two ideas mainly: first, interdisciplinarity to
study these kind of materials due to the necessity of working at the interface
of different domaines, and the second one, the formation of the link between
science and the emerging industry. In 1947, he supported the creation of the
Centre d’Études de la Physique des Macromolécules – CEPM, the first laboratory
own of CNRS at the basement of the faculty of physics. Then in 1954, the
laboratory became the Centre de Recherche sur les Macromolécules – CRM,
directed by Charles Sadron and associated to the University of Strasbourg.
At that time, the absence of an institute of applied sciences was
notable, then the project for the creation of a school driven by Charles Sadron
in 1961 with the directorate of higher education was accepted by a decree in
december 19th of 1963: "L'École d'application des hauts polymères (EAHP)
is an institute of the faculty of science in Strasbourg. It has as aim the
formation of engineers especialized in the field of high polymers". It was
in 1985 that the laboratory was named Institut Charles Sadron (ICS) as a
tribute to its creator and since 2008, the institute has been located at the
CNRS campus in Cronenbourg.
Institut Charles Sadron (ICS): From the beginning to nowadays - some key dates
1946 : Charles Sadron was the first laurate of the Holweck prize awarded by the British Physical Society, and during the same year, Strasbourg held the first colloquy about high polymers. These two events were the starting point for the recognition in scientific activities in this research field.
1947 : Creation of the Centre d’études de la physique des macromolécules – CEPM by the CNRS and supported by Charles Sadron. This multidisciplinary centre brang together physicians, chemists and biologists and started research in macromolecular science. First laboratory own of CNRS in the provinces, it was located in the place of the Institute of Physics.
1952 : The laboratory became the Centre de recherches macromoléculaires – CRM. The CNRS signs an association agreement with the University of Strasbourg - prefiguration of the current Mixed Research Units.
(To the left) Picture taken in the early 1950 with the building of the institute of physics in the background. Charles Sadron (director 1947 - 1967) surrounded of the members in the front row, Henri Benoit (director 1967 - 1978) is standing just behind him, Constant Wippler (director 1978 - 1985) is standing and second from the right. (To the right) Current view of the institute of physics
1954 : Installation of the special places newly built - ubicated on the street Boussingault. The inauguration took place in the presence of the German chemist Hermann Staudinger, Nobel Prize in Chemistry of 1953 for the discoveries in the field of macromolecular chemistry.
(To the left) The plans of the edifice were done by the
architect Bernard Monnet, attended of the architects J. Galinowski, L. Cromback
and J. Brun. Bernard Monnet is equally the author of other works for higher
education, such the extension of the institut of physics or the building of the
Unit of Formation of Research of Mathematics and the Institut of Physics du
Globe, built in the 1960s on the central campus of the University of
(In the middle) View of the north facade of the CRM, at the edge of the Marne canal at the Rhin river, near to the Orangerie park. (To the right) Aerial view of CRM after the construction of its extension.
1957 : Visit of the President of the Republic René Coty at the Centre of Research on macromolecules, the 5th of July. To the right of the president, Charles Sadron.
1967 : The centre has undergone an espectacular development. During this year, when Charles Sadron left the direction to his colaborator and deputy, Henri Benoit, around 250 people were working in physics, chemistry and molecular biology.
Charles Sadron and Henri Benoît
1970s : After the departure of biologists with Charles Sadron to Orléans, the laboratory developed two big research axes: the study of the solid state of macromolecules and the study of their structure and behaviour in solution. The latter axe was enhanced by the development of the neutron diffusion.
1985 : During the integration of the research laboratories of the Ecole d'Application des Hauts Polymères (EAHP), the CRM creates the Institut Charles Sadron (ICS) in order to bring closer the fundamental and applied research. This evolution was studied by a CNRS historian from the post-war to nowadays.
1995 : The École Européenne des hautes études des industries chimiques de Strasbourg (EHICS), the EAHP and the materials magisterium of the University Louis Pasteur merged to create the École européenne d'ingenieurs de Chimie, Polymères et Matériaux de Strasbourg (ECPM).
2 juin 2008 : Inauguration of the new buildings of the ICS on the CNRS campus in Cronenbourg. This project, which is part of the Strasbourg European city 2000-2002 three year contract funded by local authorities (Strasbourg urban community, department of Bas-Rhin, Alsace region) and the CNRS with a participation of the ministry of higher education, research and innovation.
The buildings are located near to the EPCM and to the Institut de Physique et Chimie des Materiaux de Strasbourg (IPCMS) with which the ICS is member of the Federation of Materials Research and Nanosciences of Alsace.
Charles sadron was born in the Berry the 12th of May of 1902. When he was 24 years old, he got his bachelor in physics by the University of Poitiers and after he had taught in Troyes, he joined to the Lycée Kléber in Strasbourg in 1928. In parallel to his teaching activities, he undertook a research activity and he started his PhD studies in the ferromagnetic moments of the metals in the laboratory of Pierre Weiss at the Institute of Physics at the University of Strasbourg.
When he was 30 years old he got his PhD title in the field of magnetism and he also got a fellowship from the Rockfeller Foundation. He spent one and a half year at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) with the Professor von Karman where he could went deep in his knowledge in the field of fluid mechanics. For that time, going abroad thanks to a private fellowship for pursuing a research work it was really innovative and just few French physicists searched for a complementar formation abroad. Then, Charles Sadron appreciated the operating model of the north american laboratories and how to work with great resources in colaboration with the industry. It was due to this life experience that Charles Sadron developed in France his own view of the research based on the interdisciplinarity and the relation science - industry.
In 1934, when he went back to France he got interested in the synthesis of polymers as well as in biological macromolecules. Once France makes part of the world war in 1939, the faculty of Strasbourg is moved to Clermont-Ferrand and Charles Sadron reinstalls some equipments in this city to pursue his projects on the determination of the mass, dimension and structure of certain macromolecules. These works were interrupted in November of 1943 when he was arrested by the Gestapo and deported to Germany, to Buchenwald and then to Dora-Mittelbau where he remained until the spring of 1945.
In 1945, back to Strasbourg, Charles Sadron became Chair of general physics at the University of Strasbourg and he started working on the creation of a laboratory dedicated to macromolecules, always having as base the interdisciplinarity and the science-industry relation. The Centre de Recherche des Macromolécules (CRM) was inaugurated in 1947 in which he remained as director until 1967.
From 1961 to 1975, he was the first holder of the chair in biophyics at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris. In 1967, he took the direction of the Centre of Molecular Biophysics of the CNRS campus in Orleans. In 1974, Claude Hélène, one of his students was his successor.
Charles Sadron at his office.
Charles Sadron was a pionner : he understood the relevance of the interdisciplinar cooperation as well as the importance of opening up to the bussiness. Two innovative reasoning by the time.
Charles Sadron had a major influence in the development of a new discipline: the biophysics of macromolecules. His impact on this science was emphasized in particular by Pierre-Gilles de Gennes, when he received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1991.
(To the left) Pierre-Gilles de Gennes. (To the right) Charles Sadron with the north american chemist and physicist Linus Pauling (1901 - 1994), winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1954 for his work describing the nature of the chemical bond, and the Nobel Prize in Peace in 1962 for his fight against nuclear tests.
Extrait de 2 minutes de l’original auprès de l’INA
Interview with the Professor Charles SADRON, director of the Institute of Macromolecular Research of Strasbourg accompained of his collaborater Dr. Pierre DOUZOU. Charles SADRON talks about the characteristics of macromolecules showing that the complexity of these large molecules allows them diverse chemical functions. These substances are the base of the modern chemical industry (plastics, artificial fibers, etc...). Pierre DOUZOU talks about the semiconductor polymers.
Extrait de 2 minutes de l’original auprès de l’INA
Interview of Professor Charles SADRON, biophysicist. According to him, Selon lui, humanity is on the eve, not longer to observe life, but to act on living matter in such a way that the living world can be at its mercy. He thinks that scientist have the responsability to do scientific outreach for being understood by everyone.
Sucessive directors of the Institut Charles Sadron
Charles Sadron, Professor (1947-1967)
Henri Benoit, Professor (1967-1978)
Constant Wippler, Professor (1978-1985)
Gilbert Weill, Professor (1985-1992)
Georg Maret, Associate Researcher CNRS (1992-1997)
Jean-Claude Wittmann, Associate Researcher CNRS (1997-2005)
Jean-François Legrand, Professor (2005-2012)
Jean-Michel Guenet, Associate Researcher CNRS (2012-2016)
Christian Gauthier, Professor, (Since 2016)