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Physical sciences

22/07/2008

Saclay researchers study matter in a range of different scales and from a variety of angles.

Astrophysicists are interested in the structure of matter in the universe. How are stars formed, and why do they have planets? Why are stars grouped together in galaxies and how do galaxies evolve?
   
Particle physicists track the smallest constituents of matter, and study the interactions that govern them, in order to develop the unified model of natural forces.Nuclear physicists try to understand the properties of atomic nuclei, from the simple nucleus to super-heavy and unstable nuclei, that are not naturally present on earth. They are also involved in research on transmutation of highlyradioactive waste from the nuclear energy industry
   
In these three fields, experimental resources developed in an international context are used: large accelerators for nuclear physics and particle physics (CERN at Geneva, GANIL at Caen, etc.) or space and terrestrial observatories for astrophysics. Saclay is heavily involved in designing and producing these tools. It is internationally renowned for its skills in developing super-conducting coils and magnets and producing ultra-sensitive detection systems
   
Other physicists study matter at atomic and molecular level. Over and above their involvement in basic research, understanding these properties will allow new compounds or materials to be design to meet specific needs in industry or society
   
These researches are based on the interdisciplinary application of several basic sciences (atomic and molecular physics, quantum mechanics, statistical physics and the physics of solids, chemistry, biology, etc.) together with a range of instrumentation techniques (large instruments, analysis ethods, lasers, accelerators, etc.)
   

The characteristic shared by all these fields is the handling of microscopic objects on which a range of procedures will be performed to identify their structure or define their reaction to a particular stress (irradiation or corrosion, for example). The information will be collected using physical tools for display and characterisation (electronic microscopes, NMR, micro-probes, neutron beams from the Orphée reactor, etc.). Significant developments in modelling are also required, especially in the description of quantum processes and complex phenomena (turbulence, chaos, non-equilibrium thermodynamics, etc.).

The areas of research cover nano-sciences to soft matter, that is, species organised in solution (such as colloids, gels, micelles, etc.), looking at the particular properties of some compounds, such as superconductivity.