The University of Arizona

UA Inaugurates Collaborative Research Lab with French Universities

By Rebecca Ruiz-McGill, University Communications | January 12, 2010

The lab will be directed by Pierre Lucas, associate professor of materials science and engineering, and Jean Luc Adam of the department of chemistry at the University of Rennes, and will focus its work in the areas of optics, environmental and biomedical detection and imaging and astronomy.

From left to right Frederic Benoliel director of international relations for CNRS Paris and UA president Robert N. Shelton.
From left to right Frederic Benoliel director of international relations for CNRS Paris and UA president Robert N. Shelton.

International research in the fields of thermal imaging, remote spectroscopy, medical imaging and astronomy has a home on the campus of the University of Arizona thanks to collaborations between researchers at the UA and two French universities.

University of Arizona President Robert N. Shelton met with representatives on Monday from the Centre National de la Recherche Scientific, or CNRS (National Center for Scientific Research), to mark the inauguration of the CNRS International Associated Laboratory for Materials and Optics on the UA campus. 

"The University of Arizona is proud to be included in this collaboration with CNRS. CNRS has a remarkable reputation worldwide for the science and engineering that is conducted in its laboratories. It is a great privilege to be associated with this premier organization in France," Shelton said.

The laboratory's creation is the result of 10 years of collaboration between Pierre Lucas, a UA associate professor of materials science and engineering, and Jean Luc Adam of the University of Rennes. They are respectively the French and U.S. deputy directors of the CNRS International Associated Laboratory for Materials and Optics.

In France, the collaboration includes the chemistry department at the University of Rennes, led by Adam, and the Institute for Electronic and Nanotechnology at the University of Lille, led by Jerome Vasseur.

The French team brings its expertise in the fabrication of highly specialized glass. The UA team specializes in the investigation of the glass for use in infrared sensing. Together the teams have already written more than 40 peer reviewed publications.

Their work will expand the boundaries of knowledge in a variety of fields, including fiber optics for telecommunications; astronomy as applied in the detection of carbon monoxide or oxygen as specific markers of potential life on remote planets; and in the biomedical and environmental fields to detect toxins and viruses.

"In a time of globalization there is no way that research can remain at a national level," said Frederic Benoliel, director of international relations with CNRS Paris.

Benoliel added that the CNRS has been developing a strong policy to promote international cooperation, through its laboratories, with the best research teams of foreign partner countries.

"It's no accident that at the UA there are, including the LIA we are creating today, two international research structures linked to French laboratories and especially to CNRS labs. The UA, which is one of the top universities in the U.S., is a particularly dynamic and efficient university in terms of international cooperation," Benoliel said.

"We are very enthusiastic about the creation of this structure. It's been ten years that the UA Department of Material Science and Engineering and the UA College of Optical Science have been collaborating with the University of Renne and University of Lille, with dozens of joint publications and student, post-doc and faculty exchanges. We are very happy to have an administrative structure to develop this collaboration even further," Lucas said.

Lucas said that an International Memorandum of Agreement has been established between the UA and the University of Rennes, "and we are in the process of creating a dual PhD degree in materials science."

The agreement permits student exchange between the universities at graduate or undergraduate levels with the possibility of registering for classes and transferring credits back to the home institute. "Four undergraduate students have already taken advantage of this opportunity," Lucas added.

One of Lucas' students, Allison Wilhelm, a recent doctoral graduate of the joint PhD program between the UA's Department of Material Science and Engineering and the department of chemistry at the University of Rennes, said that working at the CNRS laboratory in France taught her the skills to synthesize the glass that was used in experiments at the UA to detect viruses and contaminants in water sources at the UA campus.

"It was a very complementary experience. I enjoy learning about other cultures and seeing how their lab worked," said Wilhelm who currently works for a Tucson start-up company in the biotechnical and material science field. 

The group is working on another International Memo of Agreement between the UA and the University of Lille.

The collaborative research was funded at UA by two consecutive National Science Foundation Materials World Network grants totaling more than $700,000. Lucas said plans for the future include new programs promoting international collaborations through joint grants from the NSF and the Agence National de la Recherche or through the Partner University Fund to provide new avenues for research funding.