Philippe WALTER • Doctors honoris causa upon proposal by faculties 2023

On the proposal of the Faculty of Sciences

Philippe Walter is a physicist specializing in the study of cultural heritage materials. He is a research director at the CNRS and is attached to Sorbonne University.

Philippe Walter is a physicist specialized in the study of cultural heritage materials and is currently Director of Research of exceptional class at the CNRS and attached to Sorbonne University. Born in 1967 in Saint-Cloud, he studied physics and materials science as part of the inter-university master's degree in physics at the École Normale Supérieure of Saint-Cloud-Lyon (1986-1990). He then joined the research laboratory of the Museums of France and the geochemistry laboratory of the University Paul-Sabatier in Toulouse, where he obtained his PhD in Earth Sciences in 1993. He was recruited to the CNRS by the Institute of Chemistry, where he was in charge of research and then director of research at the Centre de recherche et de restauration des musées de France until 2011. He led the CNRS team there from 2008 to 2011 and, in early 2012, created the Laboratoire d'Archéologie Moléculaire et Structurale (LAMS) at the Pierre-et-Marie-Curie University (Sorbonne University), a joint research unit with the CNRS that he still leads. In 2013-2014, he held the annual "Liliane Bettencourt Technological Innovation" chair at the Collège de France.

His research has led him to develop innovative instruments for the analysis of micro-samples or for analysis carried out directly on works of art. He has contributed to the development of ion beam analysis with the AGLAE gas pedal installed at the Louvre Palace, where he headed the team from 2003 to 2011. He has also been interested in the use of synchrotron radiation for the analysis of ancient cosmetics and paintings. He played a pioneering role in this field and federated the national community by proposing the creation of the Synchrotron and Heritage research group, of which he was deputy director from 2004 to 2007. At the same time, he led the construction of prototypes of portable and light analytical instruments, allowing work on archaeological sites or in museums. These tools have allowed him to carry out various studies, notably on the body paintings of mummies in China and Chile. In order to carry out these technological developments, he has worked with numerous experimental teams in France and abroad, in particular in Grenoble with the Néel Institute and the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF). He is also the initiator of the ThomX mini-synchrotron project, which aims to create a compact 45 keV X-ray source.

His work in the field of archaeology and art has led him to take an interest in various periods, from prehistory to the modern era. He has directed various research programs, including one on the subject of cosmetic habits in antiquity, in collaboration with the L'Oréal research laboratories for 16 years. He has characterized the compositions and properties of make-up, both on female statuettes from the Upper Paleolithic and in Egyptian and Roman flacons with blushes. He has also studied the paintings of decorated caves, Egyptian and Greco-Roman tombs or those of certain Renaissance artists, such as Leonardo da Vinci. His work helps to understand the evolution of the techniques used during the artist's life or over the centuries, and to better understand those who conceived and realized these works. This research also shows that artistic manifestations are a possible key to rediscovering the history of chemistry.

His scientific production is important with more than 260 articles in fields related to the analysis of cultural heritage and the development of new analytical technologies. Philippe Walter is also an excellent lecturer and teacher. In particular, he has been a visiting professor at our university for several years in the framework of the Master in Archaeometry.

For his research and career, he has received many prestigious awards, such as the Bronze (2000) and Silver (2008) medals of the CNRS, the Franklin-Lavoisier Prize (awarded in Philadelphia, USA) by the Chemical Heritage Foundation and the Fondation de la Maison de la Chimie (2010) or the Grand Prix Joseph-Achille Le Bel of the Société Chimique de France (2017). He is also an elected member of the Academia Europaea since 2019 and an elected Member of the European Academy of Sciences and Arts (EASA) since 2017.

He is also co-founder of the Gordon Research Conference "Scientific Methods in Cultural Heritage Research" and Vice-chair of the first event "Non-destructive imaging and micro- analysis in cultural heritage" in 2012. He has also been director or co-organizer of about fifteen international conferences in France and abroad, in particular the schools "Molecular and Structural archaeology: how did solid-solid transformation occur?" in 2006, "Non-invasive analysis of painting materials" in 2010 and "The materiality of artistic creation: weaving art, literature and chemistry" in 2015, in the framework of the International School Hubert Curien of molecular and structural archaeology, Erice, Italy.


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