Major discoveries and inventions have been made at ESPCI ParisTech, or by its alumni, in such varied fields as nuclear physics, materials, information technology, and waves. This diversity is evidence of the School’s transdisciplinary culture of innovation. What’s more, these inventions have led to the creation of many innovating, high-tech start-ups developing high-value-added products.
Here is just a brief sampling:
- Several elements in the periodic table were discovered at ESPCI ParisTech, including radium and polonium, which were first identified by Pierre and Marie Curie — and which earned them the Nobel Prize in 1903. The many applications of radioactivity range from medicine to nuclear energy.
- Actinium and lutetium were discovered by two of the School’s graduates, André Debierne and Georges Urbain, respectively.
- Pierre Curie had previously demonstrated what is today known as "Curie’s Law" (the basic principle of the magnetic thermometer used to measure very low temperatures) and discovered the piezoelectric effect, under which mechanical stress can be converted into electrical signals; one application is the quartz watch.
- The air liquefaction process was invented by Georges Claude, an ESPCI graduate. The invention led to the creation of the L’Air Liquide company by Claude and Paul Delorme, another ESPCI graduate, Georges Claude subsequently invented neon tube lighting.
- Paul Langevin, also an ingénieur and subsequently Director of the School, made significant contributions to the theory of magnetism. In the area of wave technology, he invented sonar, which is used among other things for the detection of submarines. He also devised the Twins Paradox often used to demonstrate the revolutionary and initially counterintuitive nature of Einstein’s theory of relativity.
- As early as 1926, Fernand Holweck, another ESPCI graduate, built a prototype of a television set.
- Frédéric Joliot-Curie (another ESPCI graduate) and his wife, Irène Joliot-Curie, were the first scientists to artificially change one element into another (artificial radioactivity), thus achieving the dream of alchemists. For this they were awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1935. Irène Joliot-Curie became a member of the Board of Directors of ESPCI.
- Philippe Dreyfus, another ESPCI graduate, was instrumental in creating Capgemini, a world leader in consulting, technology and IT outsourcing. In 1962, he coined the standard term for IT in French, informatique.
- Jacques Lewiner, Professor in charge of the Electromagnetism Chair and Honorary Scientific Director, is the private individual who holds the most patents in France. He has founded numerous companies, including one specialized in telecommunications equipment that is a leader with Internet access providers.
- ESPCI ParisTech has historically conducted cutting-edge research in the area of waves. Mathias Fink, Director of the Langevin Institute "Waves & Images" at ESPCI ParisTech, has revolutionized diagnostic imaging and focused ultrasound therapy using the "time reversal" method. He is a founder of SuperSonic Imagine, which has grown tremendously since it began in 2005.
- Claude Boccara, Director of the Laboratoire d’Optique and Honorary Scientific Director at ESPCI ParisTech, discovered the mirage effect jointly with Danielle Founier (an ESPCI graduate); applications are found in optical scanning and imaging, and nondestructive materials inspection.
- More recently, in 2008, Pr. Ludwik Leibler’s team (Soft Matter and Chemistry Laboratory at ESPCI ParisTech) invented a self-healing rubber that binds by pressing its ends together and capable of being manufactured from renewable resources. There are revolutionary applications in the areas of material durability and bionics. The discovery was announced across the world, and only 18 months after its invention, this material has become an industrial product, manufactured by Arkema.