The limit of man's knowledge in any subject possesses a high interest, which is perhaps increased by its close neighbourhood to the realms of imagination. Charles Darwin The Voyage of the Beagle
IRFU, Institute of Research into the Fundamental Laws of the Universe, is a basic research institute of the CEA's Direction des sciences de la matière,. Its scientific activities cover the fields of astrophysics, nuclear physics, and particle physics. With such a wide range of topics, the institute must, of course, set itself highly ambitious goals. To that end, it can draw on a number of specific assets: scientific and technical skills, pooled resources, integration within the CEA, organizational structure, management-by-projects culture and, of course, its own experience and background.
IRFU's research activities call for highly concentrated human skills and material resources, as well as heavy equipment built around cutting-edge technologies and requiring further development work. Most of these activities are carried out as part of international programs, in institutions or external laboratories in close cooperation with many French and foreign laboratories.
The very nature of its activities has led IRFU to set up a project-based structure across its line organization, something quite original in the world of fundamental research. The structure allows scientific equipment to be built more efficiently and more reliably – from design through to industrial follow-up. In addition, the CEA differs from the CNRS and universities in that its researchers and engineers share a common status. This brings them closer together, ensuring that the instruments developed meet the demands from the scientific community.
All this makes it a particularly good thing for IRFU to be part of an organization concerned chiefly with technological development work. At the same time, properly targeted technological research could hardly exist without a constant stream of new ideas from the world of fundamental research.
IRFU's activities are focused on the eight key topics listed on this page. The first five encompass thematic fields of physics, while the other three concern the development of instruments and finding applications for IRFU's knowledge in the nuclear energy field or transferring it to other communities.
The choice of themes shows how fine the line has become between astrophysics, nuclear physics, and particle physics – a development that was anticipated to a certain extent in the creation of IRFU. This brings us to another of IRFU's original features – the fact that, right from the start, it acknowledged that understanding the fundamental laws of nature meant, in particular, studying it on the smallest and largest scales possible.
At the moment, a great deal is happening in IRFU's scientific fields. We have just experienced a radical change in the way we view the content of the cosmos and its evolution, neutrinos have a mass and oscillate, nuclei and hadrons have a more complex structure than we previously thought, and fresh insight into the origin of masses will probably soon complete the recent confirmations of the Standard Model of particles.
Thanks to the work of its engineer-researchers, technicians and students, IRFU is among the international laboratories that have already made major contributions to these essential areas of research. This will continue in the future.
Head of Irfu
Last update : 01/30 2009 (527)