Institut de Biologie Physico-Chimique

In his youth, Baron Edmond James de Rothschild (1845-1934) had developed his interest in the sciences with Louis Pasteur and the physiologist Claude Bernard. Later in life, he would establish a scholarship fund for researchers (Fondation Edmond de Rothschild pour le développement de la recherche scientifique, 1921). Some early beneficiaries included future Nobel Prize laureates Marie Curie and Jean Perrin, the physicist Paul Langevin, inventor of sonar, and the chemist Georges Urbain.

Jean Perrin (1870-1942)

In this post-First World War context, it was Perrin who alerted Baron Edmond James to the stagnant condition of advanced biological study in France. Perrin bemoaned an overly-compartmentalised university research tradition and sought to promote interdisciplinarity cooperation and to develop a new type of research in biophysical chemistry.

Edmond James de Rothschild

In 1927, the year after Perrin was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics, Baron Edmond James decided to create a wholly new foundation for scientific research, with an endowment twice the size of his 1921 contribution, along with a special allocation to build a state-of-the-art research complex in the heart of the “Campus Curie” in Paris. Opened in 1930, the Institut de Biologie Physico-Chimique (IBPC) was the only scientific research institution in Europe to employ full-time researchers in biology, physics and chemistry. Its facilities were considered the most modern of their kind in France.

As an early example of public-private partnership which would come to characterize modern French philanthropy, the research projects supported by the Baron’s 1921 endowment were assumed by France’s Caisse Nationale des Sciences (CNS) beginning in 1930. The public sector covered the cost of half of the IBPC’s researchers, doubling impact over the decades to come. Through its transdisciplinary approach inspired by Perrin, the IBPC paved the way for the future creation of France’s National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) in September 1939.

The different laboratories which initially composed the IBPC evolved over the course of the 20th century to become research units in collaboration with the University of Paris and the CNRS. Today, IBPC remains constant in its multidisciplinary vocation through continuing study of the structural, genetic and physical-chemical bases of life, from the molecular level to organisms. The IBPC houses five CNRS research units with fields ranging from biosphere-climate interactions to paedology, agronomy, physiology, cytology and medicine.

Dissertations are defended and symposia held in IBPC’s original Edmond de Rothschild Library. Its parent foundation, the Edmond de Rothschild Foundation for the Development of Scientific Research, sponsors a bi-annual prize in the fields of bioenergy, biological membrane research, structural biology, microbiology and molecular modelling. Since 2010, the Foundation also administers the Nine Choucroun Prize, established in 1980 to support outstanding young researchers associated with French laboratories. Finally, it is engaged in preserving IPBC’s archives to promote accessibility to the research community worldwide.

Georges Urbain (1872-1938)
Master of the chemistry of rare-earth elements
Louis Rapkine (1904-1948)
A life committed to the service of scientists persecuted by totalitarianism
André Mayer (1875-1956)
Physiologist and international expert
Pierre Girard (1879-1958)
First director of the IBPC, who saved the institute from expropriation during the Occupation
Boris Ephrussi (1901-1979)
Pioneer of genetics in France
René Wurmser (1890-1993)
A bridge between biophysics and molecular biology
Marianne Grunberg-Manago (1921-2013)
First women president of the French Academy of Sciences, 1995