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PublicationChemistry is everywhere - N°60

Clefs CEA No 60 – Parution : Summer 2011


Nuclear energy and Chemistry have always been closely linked. The development of nuclear energy can be primarily attributed to a number of famous physicists. However, as we celebrate the hundredth anniversary of Marie Curie's Nobel Prize for chemistry, one must not forget that it was thanks to Otto Hahn, Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1944 and Fritz Strassmann, that we owe validation of the discovery of nuclear fission. In the Mendeleyev table, they identified the fact that the products obtained after bombarding uranium by neutrons corresponded to barium, demonstrating that the uranium had split into two equivalent pieces. Controlling nuclear fission thus made it possible to release enormous amounts of energy, thereby opening new doors.


In a national and international context which is extensively promoting low-carbon energies, CEA is involved in the new energy technologies that hold the key to a sustainable energy future. They include: the production and storage of electricity from solar energy, for both stationary and mobile applications; the production, storage and utilization of hydrogen for various applications such as electrical mobility or smoothing out the production of intermittent renewable energies; or even the use of energy from non-food biomass. This chapter illustrates the key role of chemistry, which is the cornerstone of the efficiency of energetic components. Chemistry is also the key to the development of organic photovoltaic cells, with the three-dimensional organization of matter via supramolecular interactions designed to encourage the dissociation of excitons into charges, or through the design of new stable conjugated molecules in which the absorption of light is tuned to match the solar spectrum. Chemistry is also a means of developing catalysts containing no noble metals, drawing inspiration from the working of metallo-enzymes, such as hydrogenases, capable of synthesizing hydrogen. This bio-inspired approach consists in creating a simple chemical environment around an abundant metal (iron, nickel, cobalt, etc.) the function of which mimics that of the living world. It was thus possible to generate current in a low-temperature fuel cell using a first bio-inspired catalyst grafted onto carbon nanotubes.


Chemistry provides us with a universal language which we can use to describe the general rules governing how living organisms work, to understand the interactions and changes involved, but also to design techniques enabling man to become an active player in his environment. Given its activities in the health-related technologies and its goal of controlling the environmental impact of its developments, nothing could be more natural than for CEA to make a strong commitment to the various aspects of this versatile science. The articles in this chapter provide concrete examples of how the chemists acquire their knowledge of the structure and the molecular reactivity of biomolecules, knowledge that they then use to produce original biosensors, new biomedical tools, or models of radionuclide migration in the environment.


For a number of years now, the information and communication technologies (ICT) have been accelerating so fast that they can only be described by means of roadmaps. For example, microelectronics, characterized by a two-fold evolution based on both miniaturization of components according to Moore's Law (More Moore) and their diversification, including the addition of sensors, communication systems or energy storage (More than Moore) follows the International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors (ITRS). This evolution in microelectronics affects all components, both logical (microprocessors, memories) and analogue (RF electronic components, systems such as MEMS and NEMS (Micro and Nano Electro Mechanical Systems), nearly all of which are silicon-based. At the same time, other sectors are developing within the ICT: flat screens, organic electronics, power electronics for energy management and electronics to support biological and medical activities. Roadmaps such as the Roadmap for Organic and Printed Electronics, from the Organic Electronics Association (OE-A), are covering these new sectors; the same applies to Beyond CMOS (Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductor) which is going beyond the traditional limits, and which could one day replace traditional microelectronics.

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