In recognition of his role spanning more than four decades in bringing together the community of physicists across national and cultural borders through the Rencontres de Moriond and Rencontres de Blois, and for his tireless efforts to build a modern scientific community in Vietnam.
After earning undergraduate degrees in mathematics and physics in 1957, he turned his studies toward particle physics. At the time, research on elastic electron-proton scattering had revealed that the proton is not the ultimate constituent of matter, but that it possesses structure. Jean Trân Thanh Vân's thesis thus focused on the neutron, natural partner of the proton in the structure of matter. He received his Doctorate ès Sciences degree from the University of Paris in 1963.
When working on his thesis in France, Trân Thanh Vân perceived a lack of communication between theoretical and experimental physicists working in the same fields. Thus, in 1966, he created with a few colleagues a series of meetings that he named "Rencontres," whose essential aim was to promote exchange and collaboration in a friendly and convivial atmosphere. The first Rencontres de Moriond meetings were held in January 1966 in Savoie. Attending were about twenty European particle physicists, theorists, and experimentalists who were given the opportunity to meet in a relaxed atmosphere. Gradually, the Rencontres gained international stature as a venue for presenting new discoveries. Trân Thanh Vân's wife Kim, a biologist, went on to create similar Rencontres for biologists in 1970, leading to interdisciplinary exchanges between biologists and physicists. In the late 1970s, convinced of the complementary nature of particle physics and astrophysics, Trân Thanh Vân developed the Moriond Astrophysics series in 1981, which is held in parallel with the Rencontres de Moriond in particle physics so as to maximize cross-discipline interactions. In this spirit of cross-fertilization, a new series, the Rencontres de Blois, was initiated in 1989. At these interdisciplinary events, held in the prestigious Castle of Blois, physicists, astrophysicists, cosmologists, biologists, chemists, and mathematicians have the opportunity to meet and discuss topics such as chaos and complexity and the origin of life.