Jean-Marie Lehn

Jean-Marie Lehn is Honorary Professor at the Collège de France and Professor at USIAS (University of Strasbourg Institute for Advanced Studies). He received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1987. His personal goal is to contribute to the study of complex matter in order to one day understand how the Universe has managed to create intelligent individuals capable of thinking about the creation of that Universe.

What role do scientists and particularly chemists play in major areas of research?

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« Physicists want to unravel the laws of the Universe. Biologists are trying to understand the rules of life. Chemistry, the science of the structure and transformation of matter, plays a major role. It forms a bridge between the laws of the Universe and the rules of life.

How matter has become complex is the most fundamental question facing science. It asks how (and why) the evolution of the Universe produced an organism capable of asking such a question and giving itself the means to answer it by creating science. An entity capable, in a radical leap, of questioning the very Universe from which it came »

« Physicists want to unravel the laws of the Universe. Biologists are trying to understand the rules of life. Chemists form a bridge between the two disciplines »

« We are part of the evolution of the Universe, it produced us. We are starting to really comprehend a certain number of life processes, we are starting to understand – or more exactly, be able to describe – the way the brain works.

For a chemist, there are fewer constraints. The entities he or she deals with aren’t – at least for now – growing, developing and reproducing! Chemistry is therefore free to explore the universe of possibilities, the living world being just one world – the most complex, certainly, but only one in the universe of all possible worlds. »

What is your field of research?

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« I’m interested in complex entities formed by the combination of two or more chemical species linked by intermolecular forces – that’s supramolecular chemistry. Amongst other things, we study the self-organisation that leads to systems that are growing in complexity under the pressure of information, towards increasingly complex forms of matter, until the generation of life and thought.

Beyond supramolecular chemistry, we can take a fresh look at the molecular world: why not make molecules in which we can intentionally incorporate reversible bonds between atoms that are liable to break and reform in very specific conditions, to render the system unstable and dynamic? This means the chemical object can modify itself, choose its components and adapt in response to chemical agents and exterior forces.»

« Chemistry has evolved from the molecular to the supramolecular towards an adaptive chemistry. The aim is to discover, understand and implement the laws that govern the evolution of matter, from inanimate to animate, and in so doing, acquire the capacity to create new forms of complex matter. The essence of chemistry isn’t just about discovering, it’s really about creating.. »

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