Rethinking Research in the Chemical Industry: Organizational History of Centre de Recherches d’Aubervilliers (1953‒2020)

Solvay’s Centre de Recherches d’Aubervilliers (CRA) is one of the oldest active private-sector research centers in industrial chemistry in France. During the seventy years of its existence it collaborated with some of the most significant French and European chemical companies. Established in 1953, the center’s research and development organization around huge discipline-oriented laboratories proved itself remarkably resilient. Not merely reflecting the R&D policy of the company that owned it at a given moment, the evolution of the center’s research organization followed its own particular path. The research priorities in any given moment were always a place of encounter between top-down requirements of the company’s directorship, and bottom-up thematic trajectories. The CRA’s organizational history gives us unique insights into broader tendencies in chemical research in the second half of the 20th century, such as specialization of laboratories, introduction of market-driven research as well as decentralization and multiplication of hierarchies. The case study can be of interest to historians of science, due to the fact that the history of private research centers remains largely understudied, and to science policy scholars who want to understand the interconnectedness of factors that influence the organization of R&D structures in an institution.

see the article on the SHS website