Ecole Polytechnique

Ecole Polytechnique (French: "Polytechnic School"), engineering school located originally in Paris but, since 1976, in Palaiseau, Fr., and directed by the Ministry of Defense. It was established in 1794 by the National Convention as the École Centrale des Travaux Publics ("Central School of Public Works") under the leadership of Lazare Carnot and Gaspard Monge. It took its present name in 1795 and absorbed the state artillery school in 1802.

Originally under the direction of the Ministry of the Interior, it was transformed into a military school by Napoleon (1804). In the past, most graduates became technical officers in the military forces; today most go into government service or business. There are faculties of mathematics, mechanical engineering, physics, chemistry, economics, and humanities and social sciences.
[Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1994]

The École Polytechnique was founded in 1794, originally to train military engineers. Although still affiliated with the Defense Ministry, its role has gradually changed over the years: present-day ``Polytechniciens'' become researchers, top-ranking Civil Servants, highly qualified engineers, and company directors. It is one of the most prestigious of all French institutions of higher learning.

The best students nationwide

In France, a large portion of the best graduating secondary school students do not enroll at a University. They go to France's top 50 Lycées (secondary schools) for 2 years to prepare for the competitive entrance examinations to the ``Grandes Écoles'', elite institutions of higher education. Students with a scientific background will take the difficult entrance examination to Polytechnique as well as those set by other ``Grandes Écoles Scientifiques''. If accepted by several institutions, it is Polytechnique that they will most likely choose. Out of 10,000 preparatory students, 380 are selected each year, about 1 in 15 being foreigners.

The Course


French Polytechnique students do their military service during their first year. They are trained as lieutenants and are given positions of responsibility, often of leadership, throughout France and even the world. Full academic training follows, and lasts 2 years. Because of the levels obtained in the preparatory schools, a degree from Polytechnique would be more equivalent to an American or British M.Sc. than a B.Sc., with solid grounding in several different scientific subjects.

An all-round education

Incoming students, as was mentioned earlier, are science majors; however, the ``core curriculum'' of mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, fluid and solid mechanics and computer science, also includes economics and the humanities--philosophy, politics, foreign languages, art and architecture--as well as sports.

Academic training includes lectures and seminars, but also personal projects. Students and faculty are encouraged to develop a personal relationship with one another.

Before starting their second year, all students are expected to accomplish an entry-level internship involving hands-on labor experience. From a pedagogical point of view, this is considered an essential part of the curriculum. At the end of their last year, students choose companies or national research laboratories in which they do a 3 or 4 months work-study research project, 25% of them in foreign countries. At the end of this period they present a short thesis to a panel of professors.

The large majority of graduates complete their studies with a Ph.D. or an equivalent degree in science, technology, economics or business, some at foreign universities.

Indeed, the broad spectrum of their training enables them to specialize in a number of fields.

Top quality facilities and teaching staff

The École Polytechnique recruits among the best lecturers and professors both for teaching and research. The faculty is comprised not only of scientists of repute, but also of leading writers, journalists, philosophers, economists and politicians. The École Polytechnique also has 24 research laboratories with over 250 doctoral students working alongside 450 professional researchers.

The library, founded in 1794, has extensive collections dating back to the 16th-century (about 10,000 volumes published before 1810) which cover all sectors of contemporary scientific activity as well as the humanities.

Originally situated in Paris, the campus was transferred to a southern suburb of Paris in 1976 where its 380 acres allow for excellent sports facilities including soccer and rugby fields, tennis courts, 2 swimming pools, an artificial lake for sailing as well as riding stables.

Social life

This is another outstanding feature of the École Polytechnique, as social life tends to be nonexistent in many French universities. Sports activities are well appreciated and attended at the school. These include all kinds of matches and tournaments (soccer, rugby, fencing, to name a few) but also a 5-day international sailing regatta, a world class 3-day equestrian competition and a 3-day inter-collegiate ski competition.

The students, who all live on campus, organize full programs of entertainment (cinema, theater, music) which draw large audiences from the neighbouring communities. Dozens of student clubs and services are manned by teams with a variety of interests ranging from the ordering of low-cost, high-quality materials (from hi-fi and video to wine) to publishing the students magazine or the more elegant X-Projets and X-Passion magazines which inform the leading companies in the economic community of outstanding activities on campus, including student consultancy projects for major firms. Last year's special project of buying, racing and organizing trips in a hot air baloon is a good example of the students' flourishing imagination and initiative.

Career prospects

Many of the students go into company management and civil administration. Famous alumni include military figures (Field Marshals Foch and Joffre), renowned scientists (A. Fresnel, A. Becquerel, H. Poincaré, A. Cauchy, P. Lévy), industrialists (André Citroën), economists (Maurice Allais, Nobel Prize 1988), managers of major private companies (P. Barazer, IBM France), and politicians (Valery Giscard d'Estaing, former French president, as well as numerous government ministers).

Some noted alumni achievements

Polytechnique graduates have always been involved in France's technological advances. Indeed, many leading French companies in key sectors are managed by ``Polytechniciens'' and/or employ them on their staff. We will merely mention 5 major projects initiated or carried out by alumni:
© 11 Jun 1996, Nicolas Pioch - Top - Up - Info

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