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Chemistry of Materials and Energy. Examples and Future of a Millennial Science

Jean-Marie Tarascon


Serge Haroche
Traduction de Liz Libbrecht

Texte intégral

1The development of humans has always been linked to that of the materials they use in their everyday lives. Since prehistoric times and throughout history, humans have combined atoms in many ways to produce alloys with diverse mechanical properties, ceramics and colouring agents exploited by craftsmen and artists, and drugs used by doctors. This was first an empirical activity, sometimes esoteric and mysterious – as with medieval alchemy –, before becoming the exact science we now know.

2From time immemorial, chemistry in the broad sense of the term has been a vital force in the adventure that is humanity. It has allowed humans to build the world they live in and to exert their power over it. Chemistry has also supported the development of humanity’s imagination, providing materials that humans have shaped to produce their works of art and thus transmit their culture from generation to generation. This profound link between chemistry and life is superbly expressed in Primo Levi’s book The Periodic System, which conveys a profound poetic and philosophical vision of the links that materials science has woven between humans and nature. It shows how the knowledge produced by chemistry has even changed and influenced human thinking.

3These links between chemistry and our civilization are now deeper and stronger than ever. Chemists are continuously offering us new materials through constantly renewed synthesis processes. Most objects in our environment are the product of this science, which develops through the close relationship between fundamental and applied research, between university and industrial laboratories. And the demands placed on chemists are increasingly numerous, varied and pressing: to meet our needs in the fields of energy, transport, communication, and health, we require new, ever more sophisticated, miniaturized, robust, recyclable, and environmentally friendly materials.

4The synthesis of these new materials is a transdisciplinary effort, be they electrodes for increasingly efficient batteries, photosensitive surfaces to convert light into electricity with constantly improved yields, glass for ever more transparent optical fibres, or biocompatible materials imitating living matter better and better. Chemists are working increasingly closely with solid-state physicists, biologists, and even informaticians and mathematicians.

5This multi-faceted science that is chemistry is therefore naturally present at the Collège de France, a renowned centre of transdisciplinary knowledge production. Until today two Chairs, Clément Sanchez’s Chair of Hybrid Materials and Marc Fontecave’s Chair of Chemistry of Biological Processes, represented chemistry in this institution. It seemed important to us now to create a third Chair of Chemistry at the Collège de France, devoted to the Chemistry of Materials and Energy. The problems surrounding the production and storage of renewable energy are crucial for our societies, and their solutions will largely stem from progress in research, particularly in solid-state chemistry.

6No one could better exemplify this chemistry at the Collège de France than Professor Jean-Marie Tarascon, a leading specialist in the chemistry of materials devoted to battery technology. He pioneered the development of lithium ion batteries based on a new “all plastic” system, currently widely commercialized, particularly for the propulsion of electric cars. With constantly renewed inventiveness and originality, he is developing other types of batteries, using nanostructured materials for electrodes, or organic materials from biomass, to devise ever cheaper and more efficient energy storage processes.

7Jean-Marie Tarascon first carried out this work in the United States, at Cornell University where he was a post-doctoral fellow, and then for over ten years at the Bellcore laboratories, which took over from the legendary Bell laboratories in 1982. There he started his research on high-temperature superconducting materials, before devoting himself in the nineties to the study of electrolytes and materials dedicated to energy storage, with the success I have just mentioned. Before joining the Collège de France, from 1995 Jean-Marie Tarascon was a Professor at the University of Picardie in Amiens. Since 2009 he has headed a national research and technology network on the electrochemical storage of energy (the RS2E).

8I will not enumerate the many distinctions Jean-Marie Tarascon has received throughout his career. He was a member of the Institut universitaire de France and has been a member of the French Academy of Sciences since 2004. He has an impressive list of publications, with an exceptionally high citation rate. He has furthermore registered a large number of patents currently exploited around the world. And we already know him at the Collège de France, since in 2010-2011 he held the Annual Chair of Sustainable Development – Environment, Energy and Society, managed jointly by the Collège and the company Total.

9Dear Jean-Marie Tarascon, today you have returned to the Collège de France for a permanent Chair. I am particularly glad that you chose our offer to hold this Chair over that of a leading American university. The fact that you had to make this choice is a testament to the recognition that your remarkable work has earned you. Your choice to stay in France, first at the Université de Picardie and then at the Collège de France, shows that the country can retain its renowned researchers and that our institution is a uniquely attractive centre in the fierce international competition for scientific excellence. Your arrival among us will materialize in a few weeks’ time when your laboratories move into the new premises currently being completed. It will enable the Collège de France to create an important centre in the field of chemistry for energy and environmental studies, in synergy with the two existing Chairs of Chemistry.

10I am convinced that this centre will collaborate fruitfully with the other scientific Chairs, in physics, biology, mathematics, and informatics. And since the problems you are contributing to resolving concern society as a whole, you will naturally interact with your colleagues in the humanities.

© Collège de France, 2017

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