Catherine Bréchignac, a physicist, last week became the first woman director general of the French Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), succeeding Guy Aubert, whose three-year term had expired.
The new Socialist government also appointed Gérard Brachet as director general of the French space agency, CNES, a post that had been abolished in January last year (see Nature 379, 476; 476 1996).
Bréchignac, who is 51 years old, is well-respected as a scientist — she has worked on atomic clusters — and as a manager. Since November 1995 she has headed CNRS's Department of Physical Sciences and Mathematics.
Her task as director general is likely to be substantial, given that Claude Allègre, the dynamic minister for education, research and technology, is keen to see a broad reform of research strategy within CNRS, as well as in universities and other public research organizations (see Nature 388, 7 7; 1997).
Allègre has complained that CNRS has become “an immense bureaucracy”, and he intends to reduce the organization's central management and to transfer staff to reinforce the university system.
Allègre's unhappiness with France's space policy suggests that Brachet's job will be no less difficult. One task is expected to be to reorientate the space agency's activities so that they are driven less by politics and more by “technical and scientific aspects”.
In a recent interview with the newspaper Le Monde, Allègre described the agency's policies as “stupefying”, criticizing the excessive weight of its contribution to the European Space Agency and complaining that CNES's own objectives were far from clear.
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