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Research MADE IN Aquitaine

10 Portraits of research ” Edition 2009 UNION EUROPEENNE

Research in Aquitaine 11 000 professionals 6 500 researchers 3 300 working for state financed laboratories 3 200 researchers working for privately owned laboratories 130 acknowledged research units 341 requests for patents in 2008 [Inpi] 5 Universities PRES - Bordeaux University University Bordeaux 1 Science and Technology

Victor-Segalen Bordeaux 2 University Science of the living - Science applied to healthcare - Science applied to Man

Michel-de-Montaigne Bordeaux 3 University Humanities – Languages – The Arts – The Media – Social sciences – Science applied to the earth and soil

Montesquieu Bordeaux IV University Law – Economics – Management

Pau and Pays-de l’Adour University

7 Research Organisms CEA / CEMAGREF / CNRS / IFREMER / INRA / INRIA / INSERM Cap Sciences publication – Editing: Donatien Garnier – Translation: Emmanual Potts – Photos: Frédéric Desmesure – Graphic design : Lisa Morand

“ Robots

learning like children � FLOWing Epigenetic Robots and Systems

At the crossroads between robotics, artificial intelligence, developmental psychology and neurosciences, researchers in the FLOWERS* team model the learning processes of children and apply them to robots. o far, robots have always been machines programmed for a specific number of tasks and interactions, yet logically incapable of taking in environments or reactions not planned by their creators. All this is changing. Pierre-Yves Oudeyer’s team at Inria* seeks to create robots that would develop like human children, progressively acquiring – through exploration and imitation – a knowledge of their organs and their functions, as well as a representation of their physical and living environment. To achieve this, researchers start with the descriptions of children’s evolution as defined by developmental psychology and neurosciences, with a view to modeling these processes. Their approach has already reaped impressive results: in a stunning experiment in 2007, an Aibo-type dog programmed with an artificial curiosity system was left alone


on a baby playmat and proved to discover the existence and some functions of its legs and voice, in the space of just one day. In time, genuine pet robots capable of sustained interactions with humans could be created. They could become useful assistants for Alzheimer patients, or as half inert object – half human entities, they could prove precious mediators between autistic patients – whose brain is unable to deal with the complexity of social relations and tends to focus on inert objects – and their surroundings.

FLOWing Epigenetic Robots and Systems [ FLOWERS ]

Telephone Assisted Curiosity To help robots learn – and thus make up for the shortcomings of current voice and gesture identification techniques also used in this field – the FLOWERS team created an interface embedded in I-Phonetype telephones able, among other things, to identify what the robot is looking at and to designate the said object and name it for the robot. Early Success FLOWERS is one of very few French teams working on such questions as robots’ self-learning and cognitive development capacities. Their unique approach won Pierre-Yves Oudeyer a European Research Council (ERC) as early as 2009, just one year after he joined Inria.

Human Resources To support the FLOWERS team, the Aquitaine Regional Council is financing two Theses with 100,000 € each over three years.

FLOWERS INRIA Bordeaux Sud-Ouest Talence ✆ 05 40 00 38 24

* FLOWing Epigenetic Robots and Systems.

MADE IN Aquitaine research

* Inria: National Research Institute for Informatics & Automatics.

10 portraits of research - Édition 2009


Cap Sciences publication - Editing: Donatien Garnier - Translation: Emmanuel Potts - Photos: Frédéric Desmesure - Graphic design and réalisation: Lisa Morand

Developmental psychology helps robots grow

“ recycling polluants

Extracting and with plants ”

BIOdiversity, GEnes and COmmunities

Nature holds no spite. It even proves a precious ally when it comes to treating sites polluted by industry rejects, agricultural or urban activity or waste disposal. Within the BIOGECO* laboratory, researchers in the “Communities Ecology” team have understood this and they develop solutions based on biodiversity and the tolerance levels of plants.

p until one started using plants and the micro-organisms present in their roots, there existed only two ways to depollute a soil: either carry away the contaminated soil to another site and treat it through a physicochemical process, thus creating new waste, or cover it with healthy earth sampled elsewhere. The problem was displaced, not solved. Now fully developed, the phytoremediation techniques developed by the “Communities Ecology” team provide “green” solutions for certain soil and water pollutions. Like for instance a site with excess amounts of trace elements, whether non-essential (arsenic, cadmium) or essential (copper). A promising lead consists in selecting plant varieties tolerating the targeted pollution and able to root it out from the soil


and stock it in their airborne parts. Techniques such as hydrothermal oxidation – explored in collaboration with the ICMCB* – valorize biomass, while co-producing energy with no Co2 emittance and recycling trace elements as well. Another potential solution tested by Michel Mench consists in producing sunflower oil for biofuel while picking up excess metals like copper in the soil. Short rotation coppices and graminates also allow to neutralize copper and to prevent its dissemination. While giving new life to polluted sites, green solutions reduce health risks and favor bio diversity.

BIOdiversité, GEnes and COmmunities [ BIOGECO ]

Scenarios For each site, researchers draw up remediation scenarios derived from the sampled contaminants and the client’s priorities. These scenarios use plant techniques – stabilization or extraction – applied to soils and more recently, to the water sources present as well. In certain areas, these techniques may be combined with older non-vegetal methods. International Interest A member of the International Society of Trace Elements Biogeochemistry (ISTEB) and of the COST 859 European Cooperation (numbering 250 researchers in 29 countries), Michel Mench is at the heart of a worldwide active network. The Bordeaux team’s expertise is renowned in three phytoremediation areas: genes and plants, low vegetal canopy and long-term site planting.

A constant and global support The Aquitaine Regional Council finances phytoremediation projects on a regular basis, through laboratory equipment (150,000 € from 2004 to 2007; 10,000 € in 2009), or thesis grants (40,000 € in 2006; 44,000 € in 2009).

BIOGECO “Communities Ecology” team INRA - University Bordeaux 1 Sciences and Technologies Talence - ✆ 05 40 00 31 14 o/ecologie

* BIOdiversity, GEnes and COmmunities.

MADE IN Aquitaine research

* Condensed Matter Chemistry, Bordeaux Institute.

10 portraits of research - Édition 2009


Cap Sciences publication - Editing: Donatien Garnier - Translation: Emmanuel Potts - Photos: Frédéric Desmesure - Graphic design and réalisation: Lisa Morand

From the roots up!


Identifying the

genes of breast cancer to inhibit them �

Validation and Identification of New Targets in Oncology Unit

Richard Iggo is a British geneticist who joined the Bergonié Institute at the end of 2008 to help identify those genes whose part in the development of breast tumors cannot be neutralized by existing treatments. This major work will give rise to new therapies.

hat persuaded Richard Iggo to join the VINCO* group in Bordeaux was the treasure lying in the basement of the Bergonié Institute : thousands of cancerous tumor biopsies, frozen and classified in a tumors database. A treasure which may be banal without its adjoining clinical study: a followup of the impact of the two existing breast cancer treatments on European patients’ tumors. For each therapy are associated a result (success or failure) and a genome (via the sampled cells’ DNA). Richard Iggo and his team used this unique data combination in order to determine four groups of genetic profiles: those where one, the other or both treatments worked and those where no treatment worked. The combinatory diversity of


the human genome is so vast that a team of American mathematicians from the University of Duke was called on to complete the job. Richard Iggo now focuses his work on the last of the four groups and he is setting up a method to analyze huge chromosome areas where those genes responsible for tumors may lie. Without such a method, the number of genes to be tested would be unmanageable as researchers need to insert each suspicious gene into healthy cells in order to validate its effects.

Validation and Identification of New Targets in Oncology [ VINCO ]

Viruses as vehicles Richard Iggo and his team use viruses to insert the genes they want to test inside healthy cells in culture. It is actually possible to rid these viruses of their original pathogenic genes and to replace these with other genes suspected of originating tumors. If a tumor develops, the inserted gene is responsible. P53 In collaboration with clinician Hervé Bonnefoi, Richard Iggo hopes to demonstrate that the status of the P53 gene helps predict whether a tumor will react to one or the other of the two existing chemo-therapies for breast cancer. But he needs to wait until the clinical study – started 10 years ago – is finally completed.

Level 3 Laboratories are classified on a one to four scale according to their safety level. In order to work with oncogenic genes capable of turning a healthy cell into a tumor, Richard Iggo’s team needs a level 3 laboratory which costs 1 M € to build. The Aquitaine region contributed 450,000 € to the construction of just such a laboratory within the Bergonié Institute: it shall be accessible to the scientific community.

VINCO - Validation and Identification of New Targets in Oncology Unit Inserm - Bergonié Institut Bordeaux - ✆ 05 56 33 33 33

MADE IN Aquitaine research * Validation and Identification of New Targets in Oncology.

10 portraits of research - Édition 2009


Cap Sciences publication - Editing: Donatien Garnier - Translation: Emmanuel Potts - Photos: Frédéric Desmesure - Graphic design and réalisation: Lisa Morand

Cancer meets Genomics


Better and finer

wines �

Vine and Wine Sciences Institute, Bordeaux Aquitaine

In the brand new ISVV - Bordeaux Aquitaine* building, a team of oenologists seek the most elusive aromatic components of wine. Once thesemolecules – whose concentration is sometimes measured in nanograms per liter – are identified, researchers trace back their origins. This lengthy process helps eliminating defects or identifying better methods for wine growers.

he chromatograph is a curious tool, a man-machine hybrid which gives a precise description of a wine aromatic bouquet. It is a white tin box resembling a big microwave oven, connected to a real flesh and bone œnologist. In the box, a few drops of wine extract are vaporized within a coiled tube, 50 meters in length yet only one tenth of a millimeter in diameter. The length of the tube means that the volatile components reach its end one by one and can be identified by the oenologist separately. When trained to this discipline like athletes, men remain more efficient than any automated detection device and can track down elements present at extremely low concentration: these are the ones studied by Philippe Darriet and his team. Their effect on the quality of the


wine can be detrimental or beneficial in equal measure. That is why when identified they are meticulously analyzed to determine what molecules are implied and where they originate: in the vineyard ? During vinification ? During wine maturing ? With their protocol the ISVV researchers have toppled some long-held notions: for instance they showed that some sulfate derivatives were responsible for nice aromas like grapefruit or boxwood, thus helping to shape the typicity of some Bordeaux wine types. Analyzing the precise combination of a scent, a molecule and an origin can take years.

Vine and Wine Institut, Bordeaux Aquitaine [ ISVV ]

Fig and prune Among other works Philippe Darriet’s team managed in 2008, after several years of efforts, to identify the 3-methyl 2.4 nona dione: this component present as a trace in wines is partly responsible for the fig and prune notes associated with the premature oxidative aging of red wines. Franco-German As part of its crucial work on identifying varietal aromas in wines, the ISVV laboratory collaborates with the Geisenhem Institute located in a German region whose wine growing history is similar to Bordeaux. The idea is to compare their results on the Sauvignon wine type, on the one hand and its German counterpart Riesling, on the other.

Two dimensional Philippe Darriet’s team is one of the few in France who can master the multidimensional gaseous phase chromatography technique, which separates aroma components and identifies them through mass spectrometry. In 2008, a 90,000 € grant from the Aquitaine region covered 60 % of the purchase of a multidimensional gaseous phase chromatograph, coupled with a highresolution mass spectrometer.

ISVV INRA - University of Bordeaux Villenave-d’Ornon

MADE IN Aquitaine research * Vine and Wine Sciences Institute, Bordeaux Aquitaine.

10 portraits of research - Édition 2009


Cap Sciences publication - Editing: Donatien Garnier - Translation: Emmanuel Potts - Photos: Frédéric Desmesure - Graphic design and réalisation: Lisa Morand

Noses meet high technology

“ biofuels sustainable


to make


Thermal, Energy and Processes Laboratory

Frédéric Marias specializes in the mathematical modeling of waste valorization and he set up numerous innovating projects: with the LaTEP* team in Pau, he developed an industrial process which will transform agricultural and forest residues into green energy, in the form of biofuels producing no green house effect. nthusiasm for biofuels has waned. In a global food crisis context, using food resources to produce energy has become problematic. This ethical dilemma has led to the creation of a second generation of biofuels. Frédéric Marias and his team work on one specific solution: using plant wastes after “extraction” of their noble part, like corn husks for example. However, the energy potential of these residues is low, while their stocking and transport is complex. The concept of the PREBIOM* project is to use the torrefaction process – a thermo chemical treatment at 250° Celsius – which breaks certain molecules’ mechanic resistance and allows plant wastes to be pulverized as particles measuring from 10 to 100 microns, leaving their energy potential intact. To achieve the industrial manufacturing stage, Frédéric


Marias is testing four plants which can be grown in Aquitaine, using a pilot reactor capable of processing 2 kilos of biomass per hour. This pilot will provide the specifications for the manufacturing of a semi industrial prototype by the end of 2010. In time, such contraptions could be scattered all over the country and allow farm producers to densify the energy contents of their residues and then export them as biofuels or sell them to biofuel plants.

Thermal, Energy and Processes Laboratory [LaTEP]

Reactive database Thanks to a high capacity thermobalance developed within LaTEP, Frédéric Marias is setting up a unique database. This will provide the content and quantity fluctuations for the gases, tars and solid matter produced by a wide range of plants and wastes submitted to heat. From torrefied biomass to biofuel The technology used to go from dried residue to biofuel is well – known: it is called the Fischer – Tropsch chemical process, used since the Second World War to transform carbon into synthetic fuel. The residue is first transformed into a gaseous mix of carbon monoxide and hydrogen and then liquefied into a green diesel.

Consortium Financed by a consortium of private companies and public institutions, including the Aquitaine region, the budget of PREBIOM is 1.2 M €, with a 200,000 € grant from the Aquitaine Regional Council.

LaTEP Pau and Pays-de-l’Adour University Pau - ✆ 05 59 40 78 09

* Thermal, Energy and Processes Laboratory.

MADE IN Aquitaine research

* PREtreatment of the BIOMass.

10 portraits of research - Édition 2009


Cap Sciences publication - Editing: Donatien Garnier - Translation: Emmanuel Potts - Photos: Frédéric Desmesure - Graphic design and réalisation: Lisa Morand

Optimizing waste valorization


memory means understanding synapses first �


Cellular Physiology of Synapses Laboratory

With a Neurocampus opening soon, researchers in Aquitaine aim to maintain their lead in the study of the nervous system and in particular of the terminals connecting neurons: synapses. The new IINS* Institute will allow an in-depth study of synapses and their workings. Daniel Choquet – who was awarded the CNRS silver medal in 2009 – is in charge of the project.

ince Daniel Choquet and Christophe Mulle opened the “Cellular Physiology of Synapses” laboratory back in 1999, they have worked in a very small building. But by the end of 2012, the new 4 000 m2 premises of the IINS – one of two new institutes set up on the Neurocampus – will be built. This achievement originates from two complementary intuitions. First, on the fundamental level: to study the data flows in the brain, one should focus on the connection points between neurons, i.e. synapses. Then technology-wise, highly precise visualization tools are required. After ten years of work, the results are impressive. Daniel Choquet set up a high resolution imagery platform. Thanks to massive investments, the involvement of industry specialists and the recruiting of engineers, these


tools are used at maximum capacity and are constantly improved. In collaboration with the CPMOH*, researchers have managed to observe the functioning of a single synaptic receptor (measuring about one tenth of a nanometer) and proved it can move. A technical prowess as well as a major discovery, which opened new perspectives for our understanding of the learning mechanisms of memory and which led to other major results. The laboratory will thus very naturally move from its premises at the François Magendie Institute, INSERM to the heart of IINS.

Synapses Cellular Physiologie Unit

Fighting Dogma Major discoveries often provoke skepticism before acceptance. Daniel Choquet has experimented this on a few occasions: for example in 2008, when the “Science Review” delayed for many months the publication of his article describing how, when stabilizing Ampa-type Glutamate receptors, one reduces the speed of the dataflow between neurons. International Attractiveness In its current form, foreign researchers already make out one third of the IINS team. For example, German Valentin Nagerl, who received offers from several European laboratories, will oversee one of seven research groups. The Aquitaine region awarded him a grant worth nearly 350,000 €.

A pivotal project The Aquitaine regional council is strongly involved in supporting neurosciences: it aims to invest 60 M € in the construction of the total laboratories surface of 12 km2 required for the new Neurocampus.

Synapses Cellular Physiology Unit Research Group : Dynamic imaging of membrane protein organization Institut François-Magendie Bordeaux - ✆ 05 57 57 40 80

* Interdisciplinary Neurosciences Institute.

MADE IN Aquitaine research

* Center for Physical and Hertzian Molecular Physics.

10 portraits of research - Édition 2009


Cap Sciences publication - Editing: Donatien Garnier - Translation: Emmanuel Potts - Photos: Frédéric Desmesure - Graphic design and réalisation: Lisa Morand

A new Institute to study neuron connections

“ Solar panels

will print like newspapers � Integration of Material to System laboratory

Although they joined the race only recently, the IMS* physicists and chemicists are now leaders in the field of plastic film photovoltaic cells. These can be produced at a very low cost and could compete with silicon receptors which are costly and energy-greedy.

ccording to Guillaume Wantz – a researcher at the IMS – to make a solar captor with organic material is the easiest thing in the world: take a conducting transparent film serving as electrode, just paste a thing layer of organic matter made of a polymer and one carbonated molecule – allowing for a good flow of the electrons that have been dislodged by the photons collision – then cover with an aluminum film serving as second electrode. Ready ! The result is a thin and flexible cell which could be produced in vast quantities – and over huge surfaces – using newspaper printing techniques. This is a far cry from the complex, costly and energy-greedy fabrication of silicon captors. Yet the plastic versus silicon match is still undecided as organic captors also have their weaknesses: their


energy yield is two to three times inferior to silicon and their lifespan in much shorter due to their vulnerability to oxidation. The biggest challenge for Guillaume Wantz and his team is therefore to select, among an infinite number of chemical combinations, those polymers that will last at least three years, while maintaining an attractive cost and yield. Although covering whole roofs with plastic photovoltaic film is not viable yet, numerous mobile objects like clothes, tents, backpacks or parasols could soon sport them thanks to the IMS efforts.

Integration of Material to System laboratory [ IMS ]

Slow down please When the IMS chemicists identify polymers with interesting properties, these are handed on to the physicists who analyze them and identify their limits. To achieve this, researchers use a cryostatic chamber which slows down electrons at very low temperature and allows a precise observation of their movements. Multiple Exchanges The IMS has developed sustained collaboration with Canadian universities such as Queen’s University, UDM or UQAM and with the Princeton University in the USA, as well as with research centers in Taiwan and Mexico. Within the regional “Aquitaine-Euskadi” call for tender, IMS will also work with the University of San Sebastian in Spain.

A unique site in France Because they are so vulnerable to oxidation, polymers need to be handled in a controlled atmosphere devoid of oxygen and water. The Aquitaine region has already financed the construction of the ELORGA platform, a receptors production facility with controlled atmosphere and it currently finances its extensions with a 220,000 € grant. The region also partly finances a PhD grant.

IMS CNRS - University Bordeaux 1 Sciences and Technologies Polytechnique institut of Bordeaux Pessac - ✆ 05 40 00 66 30

MADE IN Aquitaine research * Integration of Material to System laboratory.

10 portraits of research - Édition 2009


Cap Sciences publication - Editing: Donatien Garnier - Translation: Emmanuel Potts - Photos: Frédéric Desmesure - Graphic design and réalisation: Lisa Morand

Plastic versus silicon


All about Deputies� Political Sciences International Relations and Territory

Little known of the public, Deputies at the French National Assembly and the European Parliament have also been mostly ignored by Political Sciences researchers. Recently, a Bordeaux team got involved in this strangely vacant field. Their method, both global and descriptive spawned a new analysis of French politics. ow many amendments were submitted for each bill voted in Parliament ? Who wrote them ? Unless one leafs through the thousands of pages of each quarterly edition of the Official Journal, it remains impossible to get this kind of information. It has also been impossible to get reliable statistics on the deputies’ profiles or the Parliament’s daily agenda, until Olivier Costa and his team at the SPIRIT* laboratory in Sciences Po., Bordeaux created a new database including thorough quantitative (such as legislative agenda, elected representatives’ biographies), as well as qualitative information (in-depth interviews analysed thematically: personal motives, time management, ideas regarding representation, etc). This new tool was completed in 2007 with promising early results and, as new data pours in, it will initiate


numerous research studies on French politics, especially on amendments. It is also destined to integrate data about the Senate – an entity as obscure as the Parliament – or the European Parliament: the LEGIPAR project, financed by the ANR (National Research Agency) since 2008, develops specific research on its French representatives. The elements already available show that, since the voting system was regionalised in 2004, the profile of French European Deputies has lost some diversity and is now closer to the more traditional white male in his fifties, working as a civil servant or an independent professional, with a strong local grounding.

Political Sciences International Relations and Territory [Spirit ]

European Comparisons So as to come up with precise comparison of French European deputies with their foreign counterparts, the Bordeaux researchers persuaded laboratories in Belgium, Portugal and Romania to adopt their data collection and treatment protocol. The end of the “Delors Myth” Thanks to its database, Olivier Costa’s team showed that this notion derived from Jacques Delors’ statement that 80% of French bills originated in European Law was false. Since 1958, only 15% of bills have come from Europe. The figure has risen in the last few years, yet it does not exceed 20%.

Significant Support With its financing of the DEPASTRA project (Deputies in Paris and Strasbourg), the Aquitaine Regional Council helped to set up the necessary tools for setting the ANR-financed LEGIPAR project in motion. These make of Bordeaux the main centre for parliamentary research in France.

Spirit Sciences Po Bordeaux CNRS - University of Bordeaux Pessac - ✆ 05 56 84 42 81

*Political Sciences International Relations and Territory.

MADE IN Aquitaine research

*Parliamentary Legitimacy and Democratic Governance in France and the EU.

10 portraits of research - Édition 2009


Cap Sciences publication - Editing: Donatien Garnier - Translation: Emmanuel Potts - Photos: Frédéric Desmesure - Graphic design and réalisation: Lisa Morand

Those unknowns governing us

laser as

“knowledge Power

tool �

Center for Intense Lasers and their Applications

Physicists at the CELIA* laboratory have capitalized on the know-how acquired in the race for nuclear fusion and have now diversified the application fields of their discoveries. Vladimir Tikhonchuk – a senior member of the Institut Universitaire de France – and his team work on such diverse subjects as ignition solutions for the power-laser fusion process, astrophysics, laser processes or medicine. he magnetic confinement of plasma leads the way in the field of nuclear fusion research. ITER – which will be completed in Provence in 2018 – will integrate this technology. Yet, it may well be superseded by the so-called Inertial Confinement Method developed in France and in the USA. High energy (or megajoules) lasers built in both countries have mainly military applications. For the production of energy, high power – or petawatt – lasers like PETAL* are preferred. When completed in Gironde in 2012, PETAL will come close to this fusion “Grail”, thanks to the fast ignition techniques favored by Valentin Tikhonchuk’s team. The race is also on in other fields of science and industry. For instance, the CELIA researchers suggest to replace the current cumbersome charged


particles accelerator used in medicine with compact laser – accelerator – powered devices. These would be used to destroy cancerous cells by striking them with charged particles. Ions are of great interest too, as they allow for greater striking precision and therefore reduce the damage to surrounding healthy tissues. There is still a long way to go, but the experiments planned with the PETAL laser should enable researchers to test theory models and to define the most favorable conditions for charged particles accelerators. Then a new track for cancer treatment will be open.

Center for Intenses Lasers and their Applications [ CELIA ]

Plasma projection In 2008, Valentin Tikhonchuk’s team studied a mysterious plasma squirt on a laser built in Prague. They showed that this eruption possessed characteristics similar to those recorded in the vicinity of active galaxies and young stars. This discovery opens new perspectives for our understanding of the evolution of the universe and our own sun. A Master degree In Fusion Thanks to their international leadership in the field of laser-triggered fusion, researchers and professors at the University of Bordeaux 1 proved the ideal team to set up the first national master degree in fusion sciences. The first of its kind worldwide, it trains promotions of around 40 students (with 20 % foreign nationals) destined to work in the future magnetic and inertial fusion plants.

Sustained Support Beyond the conception and construction of PETAL (54.3 M €), the construction of the CELIA premises and their laser equipment (12 M €), the Aquitaine region regularly supports research projects led by the laboratory scientists (320,000 € in 2008).

Center for Intense Lasers and their Applications CNRS - CEA University Bordeaux 1 Sciences and Technologies Talence - ✆ 05 40 00 28 90

*Center for Intense Lasers and their Applications.

MADE IN Aquitaine research

*PETawatt Aquitaine Laser.

10 portraits of research - Édition 2009


Cap Sciences publication - Editing: Donatien Garnier - Translation: Emmanuel Potts - Photos: Frédéric Desmesure - Graphic design and réalisation: Lisa Morand

Particles Accelerator versus Laser



sand behaves

like water and water like honey � Centre for Optical and Hertzian Molecular Physics

A small CPMOH* team usually working on complex systems came up with major discoveries in the field of physics, through a series of simple experiments. They demonstrated that in certain conditions, granular systems like sand could surprisingly take on properties akin to those of liquids, and flows of complex fluids could display unexpected properties.

ow can one describe sand ? Yacine Amarouchene toys with our perception of this material: he works in the “Interfacial Instabilities and Low Dimension Turbulences” team at the CPMOH. When studying sand grains separately, there is no doubt: they are solid corpuscles obeying the elementary laws of physics. When a small amount of sand is placed in a shaken glass, the grains seem to act like gas molecules. But when sufficiently increasing the amount of sand in the glass, it looks more like a liquid. Like for molecular systems, a variation in the distance between grains seems to entail a change of state. Yet, the comparison ends once the glass is emptied: without energy, sand loses its liquidlike cohesion and lies in a heap. However, the CPMOH team has reproduced this “capillary”


cohesion, so as to theorize it. They analyzed a flow of sand falling down vertically: as it falls, the sand drags down the air more rapidly in the centre of the flow than on its edges, which may produce a depression pulling the grains inwards. Studying the impact of such flows upon a flat surface also revealed shockwaves and the precise speed of sound within the sand flow. This double discovery soon proved to outreach the strict boundaries of research. Industrials grasped its potential for developing solutions for the production, stocking and transport of powders, balls and grains.

Centre of Optical and Hertzian Molecular Physics [ CPMOH ]

Fame With no less than 5 publications in the Physical Review Letters – the physicists’ bible – the year 2008 was one to be remembered for the “Interfacial Instabilities and Low Dimension Turbulences” three-hander team: Jean-François Boudet, Hamid Kellay and Yacine Amarouchene. The latter was also awarded the CNRS bronze medal. Gulliver travels Studying complex fluids as well as turbulences or granular systems, the three CPMOH researchers constantly travel up and down the scales, from the molecular to the macroscopic and even beyond, when for instance they compare the evolution of turbulences on the surface of a soap bubble with that of cyclones in the earth’s atmosphere.

5 000 pictures per second For a precise analysis, the sometimes very brief granular flow must be filmed with ultra fast cameras. The acquisition of such a costly tool was made possible through a 65,000 € aid to Yacine Amarouchene’s team from the Aquitaine region. It also finances a thesis soon to be started on the subject.

CPMOH “Interfacial Instabilities and Low Dimension Turbulences” team CNRS - University Bordeaux 1 Sciences and technology Talence - ✆ 05 40 00 28 90

MADE IN Aquitaine research * Centre for Optical and Hertzian Molecular Physics.

10 portraits of research - Édition 2009


Cap Sciences publication - Editing: Donatien Garnier - Translation: Emmanuel Potts - Photos: Frédéric Desmesure - Graphic design and réalisation: Lisa Morand

From fundamental physics to the naked eye


ince 1998, the Aquitaine region has favoured intelligence and innovation with pro-active policies taking on three challenges: research, employment in industry and equal opportunities. With 9% of its budget, it stands as the leading region in France for the financing of research, post-graduate studies and technology transfer.

This dynamics is certainly partly responsible for the “Towards a New University Model” project to have made it in the final 10 in the national Campus operation.

In 2007, the structuring of universities and research led to the setting up of a Research and Post-graduate Studies Pole, the “University of Bordeaux PRES”, thanks to the combined efforts of its eight founding members, four Bordeaux universities and four engineering schools.

It is precisely by encouraging a campus spirit that the University of Bordeaux aims to strengthen its position in Aquitaine, to develop interactions between Sciences and Society, and finally to increase its exposure both nationally and internationally.

A dynamic regional policy and the reorganisation of research in specialised sectors and centres of excellence have turned Aquitaine into an attractive location for scientific and technological development, as the arrivals of both INRIA and Sup Optique on the Bordeaux Campus bear witness.

These portraits illustrate the wealth and diversity of scientific projects developed in our region and reveal the unending creativity of these devoted researchers, all leaders in their field. Alain Rousset, president of the Regional Council

Conseil régional d’Aquitaine Direction de la recherche et du transfert de technologie 14, rue François-de-Sourdis – 33077 Bordeaux

Cap Sciences Hangar 20 – Quai de Bacalan - 33300 Bordeaux

fiches made in Aquitaine ed.2009 (english)