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Histoire du laboratoire

par Stéphane GUILLOT - 1er octobre 2012 ( dernière mise à jour : 14 février 2017 )

The history of the ISTerre laboratory covers the whole history of Earth Sciences in Grenoble and Chambéry : from the beginning of the 19th century to the present, almost 200 years of research which resulted in the creation of a single laboratory in 2011.


1824 - 1950 : The beginnings of the geology in Grenoble

The history of Grenoble geology, at least of the faculty of geology, began in 1824 with the creation of the chair of natural sciences including geology. It was then necessary to wait until 1889 to attend the creation of the first laboratory of geology of the University of Grenoble. Initially housed in the attic of the former "Palace of the university", it wasinstalled from 1908 in the former bishopric, rue Très-Cloîtres, where it remains more than 50 years.

1950 – 1970 : The birth of the Institut Dolomieu and the LGCA

At the beginning of the 1950s, the steady increase in the number of students led the university authorities to build a new, more spacious premises in place of those of the Rue rès-Cloîtres, which had become more dilapidated and more and more inadequate. Thus, the Dolomieu Institute, built on the slopes of the Bastille hill, opens its doors in 1961. With these new premises, the Grenoble geology finally has a large, spacious and specially designed building for its researches. It is then the most modern geology laboratory in Europe and one with the most exceptional panorama of the Alps.
In February 1967, the Laboratory of Alpine Geology (LGA) was created in association with the CNRS. It brings together almost all the researchers and staff of the Dolomieu Institute. It was not until 1985 that it took the name of Laboratoire de Géodynamique des Chaînes Alpines (LGCA).

1970 - 1990 : Birth of the LGIT and Naissance du LGIT and first relocations on the Campus

The LGIT (Laboratory of Internal Geophysics and Tectonophysics) was founded in 1975 by three geophysicists from Paris. They set up first in Physics and then at the Institute of Interdisciplinary Research in Geology and Mechanics (IRIGM). In 1977 it integrates three tectonic geologists from Dolomieu. This institute, originally conceived to develop multidisciplinary research in geology and mechanics, is thus expanding to include geophysics. The Laboratory of Geology and Mechanics (LGM) gathering geologists and mechanics will be individualized a little later.

This period, marked for the LGIT by a very rapid increase in the number of its researchers, was particularly conducive to the development and diversification of research.
In 1983, LGIT joined forces with the LAOG (astrophysics laboratory) and the CEPHAG (signal processing laboratory) in order to obtain better recognition of its observatory activities and to support it.

The emergence of Earth Sciences in Chambéry and networking with Grenoble

With the creation of the University of Savoie in 1979, a group of researchers in geology and geophysics developed in Chambéry. They will settle in Le Bourget du Lac afterwards.
In 1983, the Laboratoire d’Instrumentation Géophysique was created with the initial objective of developing instrumental systems intended mainly for the study of volcanic phenomena. This group is gradually developing by expanding its research area. It joined the LGIT in 1998 (Joint Research Unit CNRS / UJF / UdS).

At the same time, in 1992, research activities in geology were structured by bringing together researchers from the University of Savoie within a team associated with the LGCA, then UMR CNRS of the University Joeseph Fourier. This group then becomes a full-fledged team of this laboratory, which will develop on both geographical sites.

1990 – 2000 : The beginnings of a cluster of Earth Sciences in Grenoble

From the 1990s, the world of research underwent major evolutions. The laboratories engageg in contractual procedures on projects with their tutors (Ministry, CNRS ...). The result is a major reorganization that sees the two laboratories LGIT (mixed CNRS / university structure) and LGM became the LIRIGM, Interdisciplinary Research Laboratory Involving Geology and Mechanics. They shared the buildings of the IRIGM which disappears as a structure. The LGIT continues its growth thanks to the contribution of dynamic teams from all over France and particularly from Paris. This very strong growth led to the doubling of its premises (IRIGM-sud) in 1996, thanks in particular to a specific action by the Ministry in support of the arrival of the environmental geochemistry team.

At the same time, a difficult period for the LGCA begins. While it was ranked at the top of all the Earth Science laboratories in France in the 1980s, it was placed under "restructuring" in the late 1990s. To better coordinate Earth Sciences in Grenoble, a research federation ( FAUST, Alpine Federation of Earth Sciences Units), bringing together the LGCA and the LGIT. It takes place in the perspective of an integration of geology in the Observatory, but also in the perspective of a transfer of the LGCA on the campus. These objectives were fulfilled in the early 2000s as the LGCA moved to the Saint Martin d’Hères campus in 1999 thanks to an extension of the IRIGM building (3rd floor building) and was integrated at the same time into the Observatoire des Sciences (1996), in conjunction with the LGGE (glaciology), the LTHE (hydrology) and the Laboratory of Planétology. In this way, the OSUG brings together, in the Earth Universe Environment sector, all the activities that carry out its missions : research, teaching, observation and dissemination of knowledge.

2000 – Today : Creation of a unique structure of Earth Sciences in Grenoble and Chambéry

The LIRIGM disappears in 2007 and its research teams are divided into different laboratories : LGIT (for risk aspects), 3SR (mechanical) and LTHE (hydrology). The LGIT maintains a very strong growth attracting the best researchers in its field. The Institute of Research for Development then becomes a tutor of the UMR LGIT. The LGCA, for its part, completely revitalized, becomes again one of the best laboratories of French geology.

Directors LGA/LGCA :
R. Barbier 67-69, J. Debelmas 70-79, M. Lemoine 80-85, G. Mascle 86-94,
M. Tardy 95-02, A. Pecher 03-06, O. Vidal 07-10, P. Cardin 10.
Directeur of LGIT :
G. Perrier 75-88, G. Poupinet 89-96, M. Campillo, 97-02, D. Jault 02-06,
F. Cotton 07-10, P. Cardin 10.

The dynamics of regrouping Earth Sciences in Grenoble is realized in 2011 with the merger of LGCA and LGIT in the joint research unit ISTerre, Institute of Earth Sciences. This fusion is then intended as a source of synergy and efficiency, favored by the proximity of the research themes, but also the geographical proximity by the occupation of contiguous premises.
This regrouping made it possible to create a laboratory bringing together all the researchers in Earth Sciences of the academy of Grenoble, positioning today as leader in Earth Sciences in France and one of the most important in Europe.

Directeur of ISTERRE :
P. Cardin 2010-2015, S. Guillot 2015-


Sources :

H. ARNAUD, 2008, Histoire de la géologie grenobloise - 1824-1999, édité par l’Association Dolomieu.

Testimony of Jean-Pierre Gratier, Ph-D at LGA, member ofLGIT from 1976 to 2015, Director of FAUST then Director of OSUG from 1995 to 2006.

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