Mathematics in France

France: a fertile ground for mathematics

Old books by Lagrange

Mathematical research has a long-established history in France. From Pascal and Descartes to the Bourbaki group, France has always been a fertile ground for mathematics. Nowadays, French mathematical research is characterised by a wide variety of research topics, from more theoretical research to a large range of applications interacting with other sciences, as well as with society, industry and the economy.

International recognition

French mathematics enjoys international recognition: members of the French maths community have been granted prestigious prizes, including 12 Fields medals. In addition, French mathematical academic journals are classed among the highest publications in terms of international ranking and recognition. Most of them benefit from the technical support of the national tool Mathdoc, a CNRS unit involved in digitisation, publishing platforms, etc., which are in open access on Cedram.

A wide variety of research facilities

France boasts a wide variety of research facilities that complement each other:

  • laboratories within French universities or « grandes écoles » (such as the Écoles Normales Supérieures or the École Polytechnique), which are labelled CNRS (Centre national de la recherche scientifique, the publicly-funded national research organization);
  • national units devoted to support research in mathematics, including documentation, IT and computing ressources, dissemination of mathematics, interactions with industry players;
  • national thematic networks for researchers;
  • professional networks for staff involved in support to resarch in mathematics & in piloting national projects;
  • international research centres set up specifically to host programmes and conferences;
  • international networks and jointly-managed research units (like the CNRS Unités Mixtes Internationales);
  • international programs and research schools in developing countries (through CIMPA – Centre International de Mathématiques Pures et Appliquées, International Center for Pure and Applied Mathematics), a centre associated to UNESCO.
objet mathématique

The coordination of French mathematical research is piloted by the National Institute for Mathematics and their Interactions (INSMI) of the CNRS. INSMI contributes to structure the French mathematical community and attends to its integration within the international community.

Financial organisation

Laboratories receive financial support from both universities and the CNRS. In several places, there exist intensive collaborations on subjects at the interface between mathematics and other sciences (numerical analysis, biology, medicine…) with other  French institutions enjoying an international reputation, such as Institut national de recherche en informatique et automatique (Inria), Institut national de la recherche agronomique (Inra), Institut national de la santé et de la recherche médicale (Inserm)... In addition, the National Research Agency (ANR) offers support for research ranging from scientific projects involving small groups of researchers to larger-scale structured projects. The French government promotes research through LabEx (Laboratory of Excellence award), which funds laboratories in the same geographical area on various themes. In all, French Mathematics is involved in 13 such LabEx awards. Two foundations, the FSMP (Fondation Sciences Mathématiques de Paris) and the FMJH (Fondation Mathématique Jacques Hadamard), also award grants collected from public and private donations; both of them host a LabEx.

Mathematical societies

Three mathematical societies look after the interests of French mathematics as a whole. They are the SMF (Société Mathématique de France), the SMAI (Société de Mathématiques Appliquées et Industrielles) and the SFDS (Société Française de Statistique).

They have an important editorial role and help piloting some of the fifty mathematical research journals that are published in France. The three mathematical societies are also involved in activities related to industry and society. Those are developed by AMIES, the Agency for Interaction in Mathematics with Business and Society. This CNRS unit, which is also a LabEx initiative, strives to develop relations between academic research teams in mathematics and business, especially SMEs. In 2015, AMIES ordered a Socio-Economic Impact Assessment of Mathematics (EISEM) which was conducted by the strategy consulting firm CMI (on a similar model as the Deloitte reports conducted in the UK and in the Netherlands).

view of books on shelves