Major areas of CEA fundamental research
Controlled thermonuclear fusion : energy for the future
MeDICS project Biochip © P.Stroppa / CEA
Simulation of a conducting molecule inserted between the electrodes of a metal device mounted on an insulator. © CEA
Atlas detector seismic design of the structure. © CEA
Controlled thermonuclear fusion could produce a virtually infinite source of energy. CEA is performing experiments in conjunction with Euratom on the Tore Supra tokamak with superconductor magnets. This machine installed at Cadarache is used for a study programme of the technologies and physical processes necessary to produce long duration plasma discharges. In 2003, the CEA teams set a new world record with Tore Supra by extracting 1000 Megajoules of power for 6.5 minutes. But a new installation has to be built to demonstrate scientifically energy produced by fusion : this is the aim of the international ITER project.
Climate and environmental sciences
An inter-disciplinary science, describing the past and predicting the future: this involves understanding and modelling mechanisms governing the earth's climate and its atmosphere, based on climatic observations and the reconstruction of past climates and their changes using radioactive tracers and dating methods. Cross referring the understanding of past and current climates is used to develop complex computer models, based on power calculation methods. The skills of the CEA physicians, mathematicians, chemists, computer scientists and surveyors are combined for this research at its Saclay centre in a joint team with CNRS and within the framework of major European and international collaboration projects.
Chemistry and radiation-matter interactions
Some fundamental knowledge is essential in developing research into energy: separative chemistry, for example, in studies on separating minor actinides from other long-lived waste contained in spent nuclear fuels, physico-chemistry of interfaces, and also the study of fundamental processes whereby radiation deposits its energy in the matter for a more complete understanding of the ageing of irradiated materials.
CEA is a recognised national and international expert in the acquisition of very fundamental knowledge thanks to its in-depth exploration of the subject: nuclei, particles and other elements on Earth or in objects studied by astrophysicists. CEA is particularly committed to experiments performed at CERN, aiming to check the validity of the standard model of the fundamental interactions, the theoretical framework for particle physics, where some basic points have yet to be explained.
An understanding of their physical properties is absolutely essential to perfect nano-objects of one billionth of a metre that offer radically new applications like high-density memories or ultimate transistors. This also applies to materials: the number of properties of materials and their evolution are driven by their structure at micro and nanometric scales.
CEA activities in low temperatures cover superfluid helium applied to large-scale installations, cryogenics relating to thermonuclear fusion and cryorefrigerators, particularly for spatial applications. CEA also possesses internationally-recognised expertise in cryomagnetism: for example, it participates in the Atlas detector on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) experiment at CERN by developing its electromagnetic calorimeter.
Radiobiology and nuclear toxicology
Social acceptance of nuclear energy and conditions for its future use depends on our ability to respond to questions from the general public, industrialists and public health authorities on the impact of nuclear activities on man and his environment. For this purpose, biological criteria accounting for the impact of nuclear activities are identified by understanding the action methods of ionising radiation and toxic chemicals, particularly low exposure rates, the various organisation levels of living organisms, from early molecular interactions to the physio-pathological effects.
Applying nuclear-based technologies to health
This involves developing new resources essential in advancing our understanding of the complexity of living organisms both in vitro and in vivo. They apply to health and biotechnologies, with, in vitro , tagging to study the living organism structure and how it functions and, in vivo, studying organ physiology through functional imagery, without disturbing the functioning.