Association Française de Calorimétrie et d'Analyse Thermique (AFCAT)

A short historical survey

by Pierre Ch. Gravelle, Former President and Honorary Member of AFCAT

I. The early days

The Colloque de Microcalorimétrie, organized in July 1965 by Professor Edouard Calvet, Director of the Centre de Microcalorimétrie et de Thermogénèse (CRMT) in Marseille, was a success. Well-known microcalorimetrists from many countries attended the meeting. The communications covered a wide interdisciplinary field, and the discussions were both animated and instructive (I believe that another reason for the success of the Colloque was the bar in the hall close to the Colloque auditorium, where participants could after, and even, I was told, during the sessions, refresh themselves with free samples of the production of a well-known local pastis producer). Presenting the conclusions of the Colloque, Professor Edouard Brun, a personal friend of Pr. E. Calvet and, then, President of the Société Française de Thermique (SFT), a Society devoted to Heat Production and Transfer, insisted on the remarkable quality of the discussions, concluded that there existed in France a need for a structure where discussions of this quality could be pursued on a more permanent basis and proposed to create in SFT a "Section" dedicated to microcalorimetry. This proposal was unanimously approved.

The reasons for such a warm approval must be explained. But, first, let me indicate, for the benefit of the younger readers of this text, that, in these ancient times, scientific instrumentation was not what it is today. For instance, there were no computers in our labs and I remember doing lengthy calculations with an electromechanical device, manufactured by Monroe, which was not very different, indeed, from the calculating machine constructed by Blaise Pascal, 300 years earlier. PhD students, especially in Physical-Chemistry, used to buy parts of their equipment from manufacturers when they were available, but often had to make them or to adapt them to the specifications of their study. Working with a lathe or glass-blowing were then common activities for PhD students.

The situation of microcalorimetry in France was specific. E. Calvet, during his thesis which he defended in 1932, had recognized the qualities of the isothermal microcalorimeter invented by Pr. A. Tian, his thesis supervisor (cf Figure 1). The sensitivity of Tian's calorimeter and the possibility it presented to study slow heat productions were advantages not offered by the isoperibol or adiabatic calorimeters of that time. E. Calvet spent many years improving Tian's microcalorimeter. By the construction of a multi-jacketed thermostat, he was able to take the calorimeter away from the deep cellar where it was confined during Tian's time. The differential arrangement and the use of continuously improving machine-tools for the fabrication of thermopiles progressively increased the temperature stability and the sensitivity of the calorimeter. When, in 1956, Pr. E. Calvet published, together with Pr. H. Prat, his book on microcalorimetry (1), the principles and qualities of heat-flow Tian-Calvet microcalorimeters were known, in France and abroad, and generally accepted. In other countries, such an achievement would have led Pr. E. Calvet to attempt a commercial venture. Living in France, at a time when academic research was strongly supported, Pr. E. Calvet requested and obtained from the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) the creation in Marseille of a research laboratory dedicated to Microcalorimetry and its applications. Pr. E. Calvet became the Director of the newly-created Centre de Microcalorimétrie et de Thermogénèse (CRMT) in 1959.

The success of Calvet's book, the growing reputation of CRMT, the near impossibility of acquiring Tian-Calvet microcalorimeters (the commercial production of Tian-Calvet microcalorimeters by DAM-SETARAM began in 1962) incited research groups to develop their own instruments according to the same, or similar, principles. In 1965, at the time of the Marseille Colloque, there were, in France, a number of research groups using either home-made or commercial microcalorimeters for various applications and these groups were working quite independently. Therefore, the unanimous approval following Pr. E. Brun's suggestion at the end of the Marseille Colloque was not surprising.

True to this word, Pr. E Brun obtained from SFT the creation of a Section de Calorimétrie in January 1966, Pr. E. Calvet being the President and Father F.M. Camia, a catholic priest and a mathematician working at the CRMT, being the Section's Secretary. Unfortunately, Pr. E. Calvet was taken ill soon after ; he had to resign and he nominated Pr. M. Laffitte, his successor as Director of CRMT, to replace him as President of the Section de Calorimétrie. Pr. E. Calvet died in March 1966.

Pr. M. Laffitte had to face the task of organizing the Section de Calorimétrie. In June 1966, he invited all the groups active in calorimetry to meet him in Paris and to help him in the definition of the Section's activities. Not surprisingly, the groups proposed to carry out a general survey of calorimetric methods (definition of calorimeters, calibration procedures, applications, ….). Specialized working groups were created, which, in turn, organized other meetings and proposed conclusions that were, later, published in Revue Générale de Thermique, SFT's journal. In 1969, the general assembly of the Section's members, in Marseille, was the occasion for organizing a national colloquium which was such a success that it was decided to renew the experience the next year (1970) in Lyon. The following year (1971) during the general assembly held in Mulhouse, President M. Laffitte, recently nominated Vice-President of SFT, resigned and proposed Dr. J. Chabert, a research engineer from the Institut Textile de France, a professional laboratory in Mulhouse, to succeed him as the Section's President.

The activity of the Section de Calorimétrie was then fast growing in a more or less controlled way. A healthy competition between laboratories was developing at the same pace ; but, unfortunately, bad feelings and controversies also appeared between groups, the covert source of these problems being the strong opposition of some personalities to the prominent position quite naturally given to the Marseille's CRMT in the SFT's Section de calorimétrie and in the french scientific circles, and their want of a better recognition for their own groups. President J. Chabert had to face several crises fuelled by misplaced ambition and wounded pride ; he solved them, thus demonstrating a real gift for diplomacy and a good dose of common sense. He created a committee of 7 members, representing as many laboratories, to help him in the Section's management. The committee soon observed that the Section was too light a structure to efficiently control the Section's activity and too dependent upon its parent Society, SFT, in terms of budget, publication and general administration. They proposed the establishment of an independent association, which could however remain associated to SFT. Pr. R. Loison, then President of SFT, accepted this project, which indeed agreed with SFT's statutes. Pr. J.L. Petit from the Institut National des Sciences Appliquées, in Lyon – Villeurbanne, and myself prepared the draft of an Association's statutes, which after amendments were adopted by a Constitutive Assembly held in Paris (May 1972), creating the Association Française de Calorimétrie et d'Analyse Thermique (AFCAT). In agreement with the newly adopted statutes, a Board of 9 members was elected and a Bureau was organized among the Board's members. Dr. J. Chabert was nominated, almost against his will, as the first AFCAT's President ; he was assisted by Father F.M. Camia, Secretary, Pr. J.L. Petit, Treasurer, and myself, Vice-President.

When in 1974, President J. Chabert gave me the helm, the storms were past and AFCAT was steaming on less tempestuous waters.

II. And then

And then, if I may use the same metaphor, the course of AFCAT which had been set during the first years of its existence, had to be ascertained and maintained.

One of the first tasks that the first AFCAT Boards had to tackle was to insert the Association into the French scientific circles, without disturbing too much the Establishment. Normalizing AFCAT's relations with SFT was easy since the creation of the Association had been approved by AFCAT's parent Society. In November 1972, an agreement was signed whereby AFCAT became an Associate Member of SFT. Reaching an agreement with associations treading on potentially similar grounds as AFCAT was a different problem. Pr. J.L. Petit officially conducted some delicate negociations on behalf of AFCAT. In order to better delimit the boundaries between the fields of interest of all parties, joint meetings were organized and, knowing better one's main priorities, it became easier to reach agreement and to outline future collaboration. Following this procedure, an agreement was signed in October 1972 between AFCAT and the Groupe de Thermodynamique Expérimentale (GTE) of the French Chemical Society. Similar contacts were established between AFCAT and the Groupe Universitaire de Thermique, another Associate Member of SFT, dedicated to the study and modelling of heat transfer. Soon, it became known that AFCAT was interested in calorimetric instrumentation and in that of Thermal Analysis, and in all the applications of these techniques.

The news of AFCAT's creation rapidly circulated in the international community of calorimetrists, thermochemists, and thermodynamicists. The Summer Schools of Calorimetry (Lyon 1971 and 1973, Nice 1975) certainly helped to disseminate the information. The schools were organized in answer to a specific demand of the Section's members and their purpose was purely educational. But they attracted a multinational audience and leading experts accepted to lecture on their specific fields (Prs. H.A. Skinner, Univ. of Manchester, UK and S. Sunner, Univ. of Lund, Sweeden, in 1971 ; Pr. B. Wunderlich, Renselaer Institute, Troy, N.J., USA and Dr. J.P. Redfern, Stanton Redcroft, London, UK, in 1973 ; Prs. A. Peneloux, Univ. of Marseille and P. Le Goff, ENSIC, Nancy, France, in 1975, to cite but a few). The success of the AFCAT's Schools of Calorimetry, the first ones to be organized in Europe, definitely established the international status of AFCAT.

Not surprisingly, soon after the first School, Dr. O.T. Sorensen, Chairman of the Affiliation Committee of ICTA, informed President J. Chabert of the wish of ICTA to come into contact with national groups interested in Thermal Analysis, and in October 1973, he proposed to affiliate AFCAT to ICTA. At that time, ICTA was already known by AFCAT members and several of them had worked, since 1969, with Dr. Mireille Harmelin, ICTA representative in France, on the translation into French of the nomenclature recommendations prepared by ICTA under the leadership of Dr. R.C. Mackenzie. However, the AFCAT Boards hesitated a long time, pondering pros and cons and finally gave a positive answer in 1977. Since then, AFCAT members have been active in ICTA's structure, as committees members, councillors and, even, as President (Dr. J. Rouquerol is a former President of AFCAT). It is probably under the influence of AFCAT that the name of the Confederation has been changed to ICTAC in 1992.

The existence of AFCAT being recognized both nationally and internationally and its interests unchallenged, the successive Boards had a free hand to develop AFCAT's activity. Many different meetings were organized by AFCAT alone or in collaboration with other French or foreign societies. As an illustration, let me recall the two colloquia organized in Nieborov, Poland (1977) and in Cadarache (1979) where AFCAT, GTE and the Polish Academy of Sciences invited French, Polish and Spanish specialized groups to study and compare methods for the deconvolution of the calorimetric signal. Let me mention also the collaboration of AFCAT with AICAT (Associazione Italiana di Calorimetria ed Analisi Termica) and STK (Schweizerische Gesellschaft für Thermoanalytik und Kalorimetrie) for the organization of the International Summer School of Calorimetry and Thermal Analysis, under the auspices of ICTA and ESTAC, in Belgirate, Italy (1984).

All these meetings were well-received by the scientific community and were important for the propagation of recent progress in calorimetry, thermal analysis and their applications. But, the most remarkable feature in AFCAT's activity was, and still is, the annual meeting of the Association's members, known as Journées de Calorimétrie et d'Analyse Thermique (JCAT). The first meeting of the series took place in Marseille in May 1969, under the name of "Journée d'Information sur la Calorimétrie de flux". The acronym JCAT was coined in May 1971 for the Mulhouse meeting. In 1972, Pr. J.L. Petit designed the AFCAT logo and proposed to use, as it is still done, a very flashy red colour for the Proceedings' cover and the Association's letterhead to insure an easy recognition of all AFCT’s document. The annual meeting regularly continued: Paris, 1972, Caen, 1973, Rennes, 1974, … This year, in 2005, the 36th anniversary of the JCAT will be celebrated in Rouen. The remarkable continuity in the JCAT series is probably explained by the fact that the AFCAT Board, though imposing a precise format for the meeting, gives, every year, a carte blanche to a new group, volunteering to take charge of the JCAT organization. They usually select for the scientific programme specific topics, close to their own interests and expertise, so that each JCAT meeting is composed of one or two specialized colloquia. A session on free subjects is, however, regularly included in the programme, as is an exhibition of scientific instruments. The continuous selection of new topics for the annual meeting has insured, along the years, a constant renewal of the AFCAT's membership.

In order to develop friendly relations with foreign colleagues, some JCAT were, and still are, organized in collaboration with other scientific societies. In 1974, for example, AFCAT, GTE and the British Thermal Methods Groups jointly organized the JCAT in Rennes (I still remember the surprise and pleasure of Dr. R.C. Mackenzie discovering the bretons bagpipers during the congress dinner). Other joint JCAT meetings followed : in Turin, Italy (1978) with the Italian Group of ICTA, in Barcelona, Spain (1980) with the University of Barcelona, in Geneva, Switzerland (1982) with STK and the University of Geneva, etc …. These and other similar meetings have certainly helped and united the various communities of calorimetrists and thermal analysts in Europe and have thus contributed to support ESTAC (European Symposium of Thermal Analysis and Calorimetry).

The success of AFCAT activities soon improved the Association's ressources and, in 1972, the Board decided to fund a Prize. In 1974, the Members Assembly accepted the Prize bylaws and gave to the Prize the name of E. Calvet to perpetuate the name of the great French calorimetrist. A bronze medal was casted on this occasion (cf Figure 2). Dr. B. Fubini was, in 1978, the first recipient of the Calvet Prize. She was followed by Y.Gal, J.P.Grolier, P.Picker, W.Zielenkiewicz, A.Jolicoeur, S.L.Randzio, L.Ter Minassian, J.C.Sari, M.Ollivon, A.Raemy, C.Lacabanne and P.Vast. The Calvet Prize initially intended to honour a young scientist for an outstanding contribution in the field of Calorimetry and Thermal Analysis. Later, the selection committee suppressed the age limitation but then had difficulties in comparing candidates presenting a single outstanding contribution and older candidates with a very distinguished career. The difficulty was finally solved when the SETARAM agreed to support the AFCAT-SETARAM Prize. Bylaws for both Prizes, prepared by Dr. J. Rouquerol, were adopted by the Members' Assembly in May 2000. According to these, the AFCAT-SETARAM Prize is awarded to a young scientist for a specific achievement, and the E. Calvet Prize is presented in recognition of a prestigious career in AFCAT's scientific domains.

The founding members of AFCAT introduced in the Association's statutes the possibility for the assembly of members to recognize the merits of some distinguished personalities to the cause of AFCAT and to confer on them the quality of Honorary Member of the Association. The first general assembly, after having voted the statutes and elected the first Board, took advantage of this possibility and nominated 4 Honorary Members : Mrs E. Calvet, as an expression of AFCAT gratitude to her husband, late Pr. E. Calvet, Prs. A. Tian and H. Prat, distinguished calorimetrists of the Marseille school, and Pr. E. Brun, the SFT President who established the Section de Calorimétrie in SFT. The quality of Honorary Member was later, (1987) bestowed on Father F.M. Camia, AFCAT's founding member and first Secretary. The tradition was then discontinued, to be recently resumed with the nomination of 3 former Presidents.

In order to preserve the memory of the French contribution to the progress of calorimetry, Dr. E. Barberi, from AFCAT and Pr. H. Tachoire, from GTE, had begun in the 70's to save and repair discarded instruments, often lying, almost forgotten, in laboratories storerooms or cellars. With the help of many AFCAT members and, notably, that of Dr. J. Rouquerol and his colleagues at the CRMT in Marseille, they assembled a collection of historically significant and sometimes unique calorimeters. The collection was presented during two temporary exhibitions in the Musée des Arts et Métiers (Arts and Crafts),Paris (1983) and in the Musée de la Mine et de l'Energie (Mining and Energy) in Douai (1985-1991). After having encumbered Dr. E. Barberi's home for several years, the collection is now placed under the safeguard of Pr. J.P. Grolier in Clermont Ferrand. He is very actively in quest of sponsors, either public or private, to set up a permanent exhibition. AFCAT warmly supports Pr. J.P. Grolier's endeavour and hopes that soon there will be, in Clermont-Ferrand, a permanent exhibition on the important contribution of French calorimetrists to the progress of Science.

Along the years, the structure of AFCAT has demonstrated its adaptability and its resilience. The Association Statutes, even after their recent reviewing by Pr. E. Grenet in 2003, remain essentially unchanged. Yet, the Association's long life is not explained by the quality of its Statutes but rather by the exceptional dedication of a long cohort of volunteers who have generously given their time and ingenuity for the benefit of the Association. The names of, at least, a few of these men and women must be cited.

AFCAT Presidents : Jean. Chabert (1972-1974), Pierre-Charles Gravelle (1974-1979), Jean-Louis Petit (1979-1981), Lucien Elegant (1981-1985), Jean Rouquerol (1985-1989), Paul Barberi (1989-1993), Jean-Pierre Grolier (1993-1997), Danièle Clausse (1997-2002 ), Pierre Le Parlouer (2002-2006)

Even a casual glance at the list indicates that the successive AFCAT Presidents belong to different institutions : University, CNRS or other national laboratories, industry, that they reside in cities dispersed on the French territory and that their personal expertise and experience cover a wide range of unrelated disciplines, such as e.g. computer science, chemical thermodynamics, nuclear chemistry, scientific instrumentation or interface science. The successive Presidents have indeed very little in common except their equal dedication to AFCAT's welfare and progress.

AFCAT Secretaries : Frédéric.Marius Camia (1972-1975), Jean Rouquerol, with the efficient help of Lucienne Chevalier (1975-1985), Yves Grillet (1985-1994 ), Renaud Denoyel (1994-2003 ), Isabelle Beurroies (2003-)

Since the creation of AFCAT, its secretariat has always remained located at the CRMT and is still in Marseille. Such an exceptional continuity has facilitated the Association's management and constitutes, for all members, a constant reminder of the eminent role played by the Marseille calorimetrists in the establishment and history of AFCAT.

Bulletin Editors : Jean-Louis Petit (1972-1974), Jean-Pierre Auffredic (1974-1988), Etienne Karmazsin (1988-1993), Pierre Vast (1993-2000)

The task of editing an Association's bulletin is obscure, time-consuming and sometimes disheartening. Yet, in spite of these difficulties, the AFCAT Editors have provided, during many years, an essential link between the Board, the Bureau and the Association's members. It is only when AFCAT opened a site on the Net (www.afcat.org) that the tradition was discontinued.

III. Now

Since AFCAT's early days, the progress of Science has been extraordinary. Experimental techniques, especially spectroscopies, not invented in 1965, are now commonly used in the laboratories. Computers improvement has allowed a spectacular progress in theory and modelling. Yet, calorimetry and thermal methods in general are still very much in use, in all scientific fields, in research laboratories as in quality-control industrial centers. Of course, no PhD student, unless his thesis deals with instrumentation, would now begin his research by constructing his own calorimeter. Excellent instruments are commercially available. However, the sophisticated equipment, which surrounds them and allows an easy exploitation of the data, sometimes obscures the basic principles of their operation. Many avenues are, therefore, open to AFCAT's present and future activity, in many fields of science and even, as suggested above, in scientific instrumentation. I feel confident that, in the future as in the past, high-quality volunteers will join the Association and that, in their capable hands, AFCAT will keep marching on.

 (1) E.Calvet and H.Prat, in “ Microcalorimétrie, Applications physico-chimiques et biologiques”, Masson Ed, Paris (1956) and E.Calvet and H.Prat, in “Recent Progress in Microcalorimetry”,Translated into English byH.A.Skinner, Pregamon Press, Oxford (1963)


Figure 1: Albert Tian on his 91st birthday (in 1971), 50 years after his invention of heat-flow microcalorimetry

 Figure 2: Bronze medal representing Edouard Calvet  

Figure 3: Two AFCAT Presidents: Pierre Le Parlouer

(left, 2003-2006) and Pierre-Charles Gravelle (1974-1979)

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