Nanoscience and Nanotechnologies are widely seen as a critical source of Industrial Competitiveness for the future, with huge economic projections. Most countries launched initiatives to support research and innovation in the Nano area in the last ten years: the National Nano Initiative in the USA (2004), the Nano-Initiative Action Plan in Germany (2010), the UK Nanotechnologies strategy (2010), the Japan Science and Technology Basic Plan in Japan, which emphasizes "nano" actions from 2001, the Taiwan National Science and Technology Program for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology (initiated in 2003) and the statement from the Chinese Science academy which considers Nanosciences as its top priority for 2050 . France Nano program started in 2003 and public R&D absolute investment was at the 4th world rank in 2005, after USA, Japan and Germany. It mainly fuels R&D labs from the National Research Agency (ANR), with specific Nano programs selecting collaborative projects, and several Thematic Advanced Research Networks (RTRA) which fund local collaborative projects. Besides a national network (RENATECH) was set up in 2003 to coordinate and update the large-scale nano facilities developing basic technological research, and main French areas benefit from regional dedicated networks (CNano).
In 2009, French ministry of research led a strategic analysis together with the scientific community and major R&D bodies (SNRI: National Strategy for Research and Innovation). Information, communication and nanotechnologies were identified as one of the three priorities of the government in the SNRI final document. It emphasizes the scientific and technological perspectives brought by Nanosciences in electronics, materials sciences and biotechnologies, but it also stated that innovation is not as efficient as it should be, owing to the quality of French "nano" basic research, and that industrial development might be eventually hampered by some lack of skilled labor. That analysis was also shared by EU experts. SNRI and EU Experts both conclude that the convergence of disciplines should be the key for major Nano-based innovation, which should also take into account societal concerns about safety of nanomaterials.
An important initiative along those trends was launched also in 2009, called NanoINNOV. This plan focuses on tools to bridge the innovation gap, by the creation of “integration centers” in Saclay, Grenoble and Toulouse. These centers will gather in the same location academic researchers as well as industrial ones, with a special emphasis on nanosystems (integration of nano-objects in real systems or projects), training and safety.
With respect to all these national initiatives, and taking into account that Ile de France area is the largest cluster for Nano in Europe (6th world rank in 2005), the Nanosaclay labex proposal is directly involved or in line with those analysis: (i) Two partners (IEF and LPN, tomorrow gathered in C2N1, host two of the RENATECH national network of large scale facilities. This constitutes a major advantage for nano research in Saclay Campus; (ii) Most partners in NanoSaclay are active in C'Nano Ile de France (which they founded), as well as in the RTRA2 “triangle de la physique”, and several are actors of NanoINNOV-Saclay3; (iii) The scientific project is in line with the National Strategic plan for Research (SNRI), in particular for joining multidisciplinary forces available in the same area.
The scientific dynamics of NanoSaclay will be built around a limited number of multidisciplinary flagship research domains. The choice of three flagship domains and related tools rely upon a critical analysis of our strengths and weaknesses, in the local, national and international contexts. We favoured the domains where the excellence of the labex partners is well established, which gather a sufficient critical mass, and which present a strong innovation potential. The three flagship research domains are as follows:
Quantum and Spin-based nanoelectronics: at stake here is to understand and control charge and spin at the nano-scale, as both quantities will become more and more linked in tomorrow chips. The innovation field ranges from high sensitivity magnetic sensors (for transport, biomedical, reliability control) to breakthrough architectures for data storage and low power computing, such as neuro-inspired architectures, upstream of the information systems of the future.
Nano-drugs for the treatment of severe diseases: Our goal is to take advantage of two novel and exciting nanomaterials (ie. nanoterpenes and nanoMOFs) to discover new and more efficient nanomedicines and nanotheranostics. Based on a multidisciplinary approach, including bioconjugate chemistry, physico-chemistry of supramolecular assemblies, drug delivery, cellular and molecular biology as well as experimental pharmacology, this proposal may lead to improved treatments of severe diseases (cancer, infections), especially when they are resistant to current chemotherapy.
Nanophotonics, Nano-objects for energy control: at stake here is to understand and control the interaction between light and matter (electrons, phonons) at the nano-scale. First projects will associate chemists, material scientists and physicists to explore new interaction regimes on original structures, with the objective to absorb and emit light in an optimal way. Innovation will be developed on several aspects such as nanophotonics for telecommunications and on chip optical interconnections, or sustainable energy.
Those flagship domains are well suited to provide an "innovation nurturing core field" which will become a key asset for technology transfer through various bodies that will be launched locally within the "Investissements d'Avenir" French call, such as the IRT SystemX (devoted to microelectronics), and the IEEDs "CLAIRE" and "PV" dedicated respectively to climate and environment issues, and to photovoltaics.
If the flagship domains are expected to remain mostly stable during the 10 years life of the labex, the projects and innovation strategies are clearly on a shorter term. Hence, the projects will be defined on a 2+2 years time scale, with careful evaluation and possibly drastic reorientation at mid term. In addition, a privileged way of driving the scientific dynamics of the labex will happen through the support of emerging projects, for which a dedicated call will be launched regularly. This call will be open to the largest participation of research teams, in particular for multidisciplinary support, hence participating also to the pull effect expected from a labex.
The expected technology transfer will capitalize on the already demonstrated ability of the NanoSaclay partners in that issue: over 350 patents have been filed by scientists of the Nano-Saclay consortium; in addition researchers from NanoSaclay have already contributed to the creation of 10 startup companies. These numbers characterize the high attention given to Intellectual Property protection and transfer to industry by the 24 partners of the labex. Hence, NanoSaclay will launch a dedicated bureau for the valorisation composed of a college of specialists in innovation for one half, a college of scientists with a recognized experience in innovation for the other half. This bureau will benefit from advices of “scientific angels” (scientists who have driven industrialisation projects) and from the help of national centres for innovation (CFI, …)
Owing to our multidisciplinary approach, ways of exploiting results can vary drastically from one flagship theme to another. Nanomedicine, for example, requires long and costly clinical tests before to launch a drug on the market. On the contrary, a few years might be enough to go from proof of concept to commercial product for optical components development. Hence we propose two main “transfer management” approaches, adapted for the two extreme cases of Nanomedecine and Nanophotonics, being understood that mechanisms will in any case be opened for all subjects. The first one is mainly based on patent applications that will eventually be licensed to pharmaceutical or biotech companies, or gathered and enriched for creating a startup, as already done successfully (5 startups were issued from the partners of the nanomedicine project). The second one is based on the assets gathered in the last years by the CFI and our partners IOGS and ONERA: the IP is equally shared among the partners, and the startup creation is envisioned very shortly after the first innovations. That process has proven efficient for domains where the time-to-market is short, as optical components.
NanoSaclay will also devote a special emphasis on transferring the major part of the innovative set-ups and technology developments that will be done in order to reach our ambitious scientific goals. Often developed in close collaboration with industrial partners, those innovative set-ups and initiatives are precious by-products, which can fulfil academic or industrial requirements for other application fields.
Regarding formation and training, the Saclay area already benefits from a wide range of training and outreach possibilities. However, despites all efforts the corresponding tools can still be considered as internationally less attractive than compared offers from foreign Universities. And in particular a special effort should be done to train students inside the laboratories earlier, as happens for instance in USA or UK. We make here a number of propositions, which will be benchmarked and adapted annually.
First of all, NanoSaclay will mainly rely on numerous existing Masters which include "Nano" courses. In particular, the Master "Nanosciences" recently launched in the Paris-Saclay area will be a natural asset for NanoSaclay labs, and a natural location for high-level education provided by its skilled scientists. It will also rely on Innovation training programs already existing within some of our partners.
Second, Nanosaclay will develop an innovative Excellence Internship Grant Program. Ten grants of an amount of 5 k€ will be given to students who are willing to perform a 5 months internship in a laboratory chosen within a cluster of partners. Participation to this program will be open to students enrolling in a PhD program within the labex.
Third, NanoSaclay will launch a professional research training program, offered to PhD students working in the labs affiliated to NanoSaclay. The program will cover several professional skills including scientific writing, oral presentation, proposal writing, intellectual property, introduction to patent writing.
Finally, a Nanoscience student chapter will be created, inspired from student chapter organization in international societies. The nanosciences student chapter is aimed to create collaborative scientific activities between students from NanoSaclay as well as national and international collaborations with other students from selected institutes.
In a nutshell, NanoSaclay intends to create an efficient Nanosciences and Nanotechnology Cluster based on a major transformation of the area, with co-localization in new buildings of several major partners. The labex should somehow become the inter-organization governing body of this cluster, pleading for lab-like governance. Nanosaclay also aims at achieving its specific targets such as nurturing excellence, developing international attractiveness, and pull effect on the scientific and industrial environment. This makes mandatory the objective to open the Cluster to, and aggregate efficiently, other Nanosciences teams, and would advocate for more network-like governance however including mechanisms beyond criticism to select excellence. The structure we propose comprises three main bodies:
1/ A Coordinator and Deputy Coordinator to run the Labex on a day-to-day basis, and to represent the project with external institutions. They are nominated for 4 years by the Steering Committee following a proposal made by the institutions listed in the table given on page 2-3 and table 3.1. They are assisted by a Coordination Board comprising representatives of the various axes of the labex, such as the three flagship domains, different transverse expertises (namely: materials/nanotechnologies, nanocharacterization, theory/simulation), innovation (including coordination with the IRT SystemX), higher education and outreach (attractivity, society and communication). This Board is nominated by the Steering Committee on proposition of the Coordinator. It ensures a tight bidirectional link between the scientific and technical community and the main bodies. It meets on a monthly basis to monitor the advancement and organise the life of the project, and in particular prepare the reports and the meetings of the two Committees.
2/ A "Steering Committee", which will make decisions as to the actions to be carried out and coordinate with its partners. It comprises representatives of the institutions listed in the table provided on page 2-3 and table 3.1. We anticipate about 4 meetings every year on average. The Coordinator and Deputy Coordinator report to the Steering Committee.
3/ A "Scientific Committee" involved in decisions pertaining to funding and to proposing research orientations. Members of this committee would be nominated following a proposal made by the "Steering Committee". It will be exclusively composed of scientists external to the network, with at least half foreign members. Given the multidisciplinary nature and objectives of the projects, special care will be taken to ensure a wide coverage of competences. We expect a very active role of this Committee, and in particular the President of the Scientific Committee will play a strong role through a direct link with the coordinator. This committee will count at least 20 scientists.
The NanoSaclay Labex will gather within its 1st circle 71 research teams from 28 laboratories, organized as 24 partners, for a total of 461 permanent staff. They are supported by 13 organizations: CNRS, CEA, UP11, X, IOGS, Ecole Centrale Paris (ECP), Supélec, ENS Cachan, INRIA, ONERA, SOLEIL, Univ. Versailles-St Quentin (UVSQ), Thales. All of them clearly support that initiative which is perfectly in line with their own strategy for the next decade.