1945 — 1960

War, liberation and reconstruction

Construction of a wind tunnel at the wind tunnel laboratory in Meudon, 1947

© Fonds historique/CNRS Photothèque

In May 1940, the German offensive interrupted the mobilisation effort initiated seven months earlier by the CNRS.

However, this did not prevent the centre, which already hosted nearly 40 laboratories and a thousand researchers, engineers and technicians, mostly in the Paris region, from completing several impressive projects. Among them was a process developed by the young physicist Louis Néel, who went on to win a Nobel Prize in 1970, for protecting ships against German magnetic mines. His method was adopted by the British Admiralty which was preparing to continue the war.

Germans parading in Paris, June 1940


After the fall of France, the CNRS, like the entire country, suffered the torments of the Occupation.

Its staff became one of the first victims of wartime deprivation, and was severely affected by the Vichy government’s exclusion measures: the new anti-Jewish laws deprived the laboratories of researchers, engineers and technicians, who lost their livelihoods and sometimes their lives. The founders of the CNRS themselves were not spared. Jean Perrin chose exile in June 1940 and died in New York two years later. Jean Zay was imprisoned in October 1940 by Marshal Pétain’s pro-German regime, and was later savagely murdered by its militia, on June 20, 1944. The two were recently united under the dome of the Panthéon mausoleum in Paris: Perrin, who had been interred there in 1948, was joined by Zay in 2015. Today, both of the CNRS’s founding fathers have taken their place in France’s national shrine…

A Parisian street in 1941

© Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-247-0775-38 / Langhaus / CC-BY-SA 3.0

Jean Zay, Minister of Education, and Marc Rucart, Minister of Justice, 1937

© Domaine public

Jean Zay joins Jean Perrin in the Panthéon, 2015

After the Liberation, the CNRS was headed by scientists eager to break with the authoritarian practices of the Vichy period.

Frédéric Joliot-Curie, who presided over the CNRS from August 1944 to February 1946, and Georges Teissier, his successor until 1950, strove to involve “scientific workers” in defining the country’s scientific policy and research goals. Under the impetus of General de Gaulle, a new research organisation devoted to nuclear energy, the French Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) was founded in 1945. Along with other scientific bodies, the INRA, created in 1946 and specialising in agronomic research, expanded the scope of France’s nascent public research structure. This period also saw the formation, in 1945, of the National Committee for Scientific Research, a “parliament of science” that was to last over the decades: to this day, it plays a crucial role within the CNRS and, more generally, in the scientific life of the entire country.

Frédéric Joliot-Curie headed the CNRS from August 1944 to February 1946
Georges Teissier was head of the CNRS from 1946 to 1950

© DR

The CNRS sees steady growth.

After the immediate postwar period, during which its budgets remained limited, the CNRS began to enjoy steady growth.

Every year it opened new units, not only in the Paris region but increasingly in other parts of France as well, with research centers sprouting up in Grenoble, Marseille, Strasbourg, Toulouse…

Faithful to its missions, the CNRS helped develop activities that were not popular in universities. One example is the campus founded in 1946 in Gif-sur-Yvette, south of Paris, which played a key role from the 1950s in expanding the scope and prestige of French genetics.

The Gif-sur-Yvette campus under construction
The low-temperature biology laboratory, Meudon, 1959

© Fonds historique/CNRS Photothèque

The CNRS helped develop activities that were not popular in universities.

"Le phytotron" (EN)

Excerpt from "Le Phytotron", 1969, 28 min. Author: Pierre Chouard Director: Eric Duvivier Production: CNRS, Sciencefilm
→ Vidéothèque


The first woman to head a CNRS laboratory



Zoologist and geneticist
A pioneer in population genetics


Winner of the Nobel Prize in 1970


Chemist and physicist, Recipient of the Nobel Prize in 1935
"Parliament of science" champion

They headed the CNRS

1944 — 1946

Frédéric Joliot

1946 — 1950

Georges Teissier

1950 — 1957

Gaston Dupouy

1957 — 1962

Jean Coulomb