Trajectoire

Celebrating twenty years of Subatech

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This laboratory is at the cutting edge of nuclear physics research (working with the CERN in Geneva), focusing on both fundamental science and applied science, such as in nuclear waste management, or in nuclear medecine.

On June 20, SUBATECH will celebrate its 20th birthday. Subatech is a joint laboratory, specialised in nuclear physics and chemistry, with 200 research scientists and technicians and a budget of €15 million, of which the Ecole des Mines is particularly proud. It was set up in 1994 as a joint research laboratory (UMR) involving the Ecole des Mines, the National Institute for nuclear physics and Particle Physics (CNRS-IN2P3), and the University of Nantes, and it has forged itself a solid reputation, both in France and internationally.
It is becoming more and more involved in large scale projects, in particular with the CERN in Geneva, where it runs one of the computing centres. It is bringing in leading researchers, from France and abroad and its work has received an impressive number of prestigious awards. AERES, (the Agency for evaluation in research and higher education), referred to its success in glowing terms in a report published in 2011, saying "SUBATECH has had a huge impact on all the different programmes in which it has been involved, most of which have been high level international projects."
Why such success ? First of all, an unusual approach. "The original idea, which came from Robert Germinet, head of the Ecole des Mines at that time, and Georges Charpak, Nobel prize winner for physics, was to bring together scientists from the CERN, working on fundamental research, and other scientists involved in applied science and industrial applications, explains Bernd Grambow, the director of  SUBATECH. At the time this was ground breaking." Even today, this dual focus in basic research, and at international level is a major asset for the school.

A wide range of activies

After that, SUBATECH became involved in cutting edge projects. "In the first few months, there was a lot of room for manoeuvre, remembers Hans Gutbrod, who ran the laboratory from 1995 to 2001. We drew up an ambitious research programme, with three main lines of approach : ultrarelativistic heavy ion collisions, the transmutation of nuclear waste, and radiochemistry. We  also started Doctoral training in nuclear science. The school has always been very supportive in all these new initiatives."
Little by little, SUBATECH has become increasingly more involved in work at the LHC, at the CERN (studying the state of matter which existed nanoseconds after the Big Bang) and is a key player in nuclear chemistry, and in nuclear fuel storage. Subatech is also known for its work on astroparticle physics, dark matter research, and in particular radiochemistry, with a team of fifty people. "Bringing together physics and radioactive chemistry is a particularly original concept ", observes Jacques Martino, head of the laboratory between 2001 and 2010, now director of the IN2P3/CNRS.
Not forgetting another centre of excellence : nuclear medicine. SUBATECH is at the cutting edge of using radionuclides for imaging and treatment. "The laboratory was very much involved in the setting up of the ARRONAX cyclotron in Nantes, and in the development of a centre for research into nuclear medicine in Nantes", explains Jacques Martino.
SUBATECH is now widening its scope to include areas such as metrology, with a project focusing on detectors, and the SSG (Social sciences and management) group at the school, who are working on the social implications of installing new types of nuclear reactors.
As with all publich research, Subatech has been affected by cuts in the research budget. However its close links with industry and medical science, as well as the broad range of its activities, has enabled it to self-finance to a greater degree than most other research laboratories, and to operate within its budget. According to Jacques Martino "It is essential to maintain the momentum of both fundamental and applied research, to enable a broad spectrum of projects to be worked on, and the diversification of resources. All these projects feed into one another, and provide the opportunity for numerous synergies. It is a very promising approach. 

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