• Ampère de l’Electricité Prize - French Academy of Sciences


Alain Brillet, a Université Côte d’Azur researcher, has received the 2017 CNRS Gold Medal. This prestigious prize, created in 1937, is awarded each year to scientists that have made exceptional advances in diverse scientific fields, contributing to the dynamism and infuence of French research. It recognizes as well the overall work and careers of eminent and internationally known scientific personalities. Only one or at most two such awards are given each year. 

Dr. Brillet played a visionary role in the development of the large interferometers that led to the detection of gravitational waves. As a virtuoso in the metrology of laser interferometers, he worked at the Horloge Atomique before becoming a CNRS Research Director and a member of the ARTEMIS laboratory (Université Côte d’Azur). He also became the leader of the Virgo project, which he initiated and supervised during its construction from 1993 to 2003.

In the early 1980’s, Brillet led the work of a group of scientists working on ultrastable lasers for frequency metrology. These researchers were in charge of maintaining the correct time at an extreme level of precision, which was necessary for example for the correct functioning of GPS systems, in particular for military and spatial applications. To do this, it was necessary to rely on atomic phenomena, because molecular transitions are the only non-varying elements on earth. Currently, for example, one second corresponds to a particular fraction of a transition of Cesium. These phenomena can only be reliably measured using ultrastable lasers, which were also used in the detection of gravitational waves. These lasers can thus be said to have been given a second life with the decision to begin searching for these waves, as instruments for detecting such waves did not exist at the time.

The pluridisciplinary laboratory Artemis was founded on this basis of this work, and is still involved in the Virgo and LISA projects (

Dr. Brillet understood as early as the 1980’s that no physical laws would prevent the potential detection of kilometer-long gravitational waves through the use of interferometers. He was able to convince other scientists and funding agencies to pursue this adventure, which led to the creation of the French-Italian Virgo program, whose name he proposed. While his colleague Adalberto Giazotto developed suspension systems to allow mirrors to be uncoupled from terrestrial vibrations, Alain Brillet developed, with his team, innovative solutions in the fields of lasers and optics. The quality of his work allowed Virgo to be equal partners with the North American LIGO project, working together through an exchange program on technical solutions and on the data obtained. The success of this partnership in the detection, announced in February 2016, of the first event resulting from the merger of two black holes, is a testament to the scientific stature of Virgo, and led to the highly promising collection of unprecedented results in this new field of observational astronomy. Without Alain Brillet, France would not have participated in such a major way in this major advance in experimental physics.

In November 2016, the French Academy of Sciences awarded Alain Brillet the 50,000-euro Ampère de l’Electricité Prize, a distinction awarded to French researchers having completed exceptional work in fundamental or applied mathematics or physics.