Interview: J-M. Nedelec

What is your “sol-gel” background ?

I have been grown up as a general chemist at the National Graduate School of Engineering Chemistry of Lille and then decide to prepare a PhD on Sol-Gel derived photosensitive glasses at Lille University. At this time the Sol-Gel activities were just starting in the LASIR Laboratory (LASIR) in close collaboration with PhLAM laboratory in the physics department. This was an excited period since we had to start from scratch in a field totally new to me but also to some extent for the hosting laboratory. After receiving my PhD in 1998, I moved to the Department of Materials at Imperial College London in the group of Pr Larry L. Hench a big name in sol-gel science and the inventor of so called Bioglass®. After one year here I had to quit and took a permanent position at ENSCCF in Clermont-Ferrand. Since then, I have been working in the LMI laboratory trying to use my sol-gel skills for the preparation of functional materials with controlled morphology and texture.

What are the main topics you are working on today ?

When I arrived in Clermont-Ferrand, my main topic was the design of efficient luminescent materials based upon rare earth doped oxides for practical application such as lightning, displays and medical imaging. This research topic is still very active in the laboratory but I also diversified my research activities keeping Sol-Gel chemistry and physico-chemical characterization of materials as the connecting thread. Now my topics include the design of bioactive ceramics (glasses and calcium phosphates) with tailored porosity and morphology to be used as bone substitutes and scaffold for tissue engineering, the preparation of porous materials with hierarchical structure and the study of chemical reactivity and the thermodynamics of phase transitions in confined geometries. More recently, we moved to multifunctional hybrids materials (bioactive/luminescent, antibacterial/anti osteoporotic, hydrophobic/porous…).

The collaborations you have initiated ?

My research being strongly pluridisciplinary, I have a lot of collaborations with chemists, physico-chemists, physicists and biologists. The network extends locally, nationally and internationally. The most prominent collaborations in the sol-gel community are those involving D. Avnir and coworkers from Hebrew University of Jerusalem on Interpenetrated Hybrid Nanoparticles, Florence Babonneau et al. from LCMC, Paris on the characterization of biomineralized and phatological apatites and Vadim Kessler from SLU Uppsala on hierarchically porous TiO2 particles for drug delivery and catalysis applications. But the longest and closest interactions are local at Clermont Université with my colleagues E. Jallot (LPC) on bioceramics and J.PE. Grolier and M. Baba on interfaces thermodynamics and calorimetric characterization of materials.

Could you let us know the main challenges you foresee for the sol- gel process and the sol-gel materials in the next future ?

If I look back at the last 15 years, sol gel materials have considerably progressed in term of functionality and complexity. The development of hybrid materials, hierarchical structures, multifunctional nanoparticles among others create the need for the development of new characterization techniques capable of addressing such complex materials at different length and time scales. The main challenges will be addressed using  the integrative approach merging soft matter, solid state and polymer chemistries together with biology and physics. This approach could produce new materials that a classical single technique can not fully apprehend. Within this context, the next ISGS Summer School[1] devoted to Advanced Characterization Techniques for Sol gel Materials, will be an ideal forum where young researchers will meet world wide experts.

What is your wish for the sol-gel community ?

Our society is young but very active with an excellent turnover of executive members. To extend further, we need to quantitatively increase the number of members. In my opinion, young researchers and PhD students should be our main concern as they are the future of sol-gel chemistry. I have been celebrating the 20th birthday of the International Conference in Padova 2001 and I will certainly be there for the 40th, in between I wish to ISGS to grow up and to be considered as one of the major scientific society as it brings together many disciplines and makes bridges between different communities as attested so clearly last year at the Hybrids Materials conference in Tours, France. 18-21 July, Chambon /Lac, France