The Nobel Prize in Physics 1991
Pierre-Gilles de Gennes
Pierre-Gilles de Gennes
Born: 24 October 1932, Paris, France
Died: 18 May 2007, Orsay, France
Affiliation at the time of the award: Collège de France, Paris, France
Prize motivation: "for discovering that methods developed for studying order phenomena in simple systems can be generalized to more complex forms of matter, in particular to liquid crystals and polymers"
Field: Condensed matter physics
P. G. de Gennes was born
in Paris, France, in 1932. He majored from the École Normale
in 1955. From 1955 to 1959, he was a research engineer at the
Atomic Energy Center (Saclay), working mainly on neutron
scattering and magnetism, with advice from A. Herpin, A. Abragam
and J. Friedel (PhD 1957). During 1959 he was a postdoctoral
visitor with C. Kittel at Berkeley, and then served for 27 months
in the French Navy. In 1961, he became assistant professor in
Orsay and soon started the Orsay group on supraconductors.
Later, 1968, he switched to liquid crystals. In 1971, he became
Professor at the Collège de France, and was a participant of
STRASACOL (a joint action of Strasbourg, Saclay and College de
France) on polymer physics.
From 1980, he became interested in interfacial problems, in particular the dynamics of wetting. Recently, he has been concerned with the physical chemistry of adhesion.
P.G. de Gennes has received the Holweck Prize from the joint French and British Physical Society; the Ampere Prize, French Academy of Science; the gold medal from the French CNRS; the Matteuci Medal, Italian Academy; the Harvey Prize, Israel; the Wolf Prize, Israel; The Lorentz Medal, Dutch Academy of Arts and Sciences; and polymer awards from both APS and ACS.
He is a member of the French Academy of Sciences, the Dutch Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Royal Society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the National Academy of Sciences, USA.
From Les Prix Nobel. The Nobel Prizes 1991, Editor Tore Frängsmyr, [Nobel Foundation], Stockholm, 1992
This autobiography/biography was written at the time of the award and later published in the book series Les Prix Nobel/Nobel Lectures. The information is sometimes updated with an addendum submitted by the Laureate.Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 1991
Addendum, September 2005
From 1976 to 2002, P.-G. de Gennes was the director of the Ecole de Physique et Chimie (Paris). This is a center for the formation of research engineers in Physics, Chemistry (and, from de Gennes' time, Biology). This place has been the base of Pierre and Marie Curie, Georges Claude, Paul Langevin, and recently of G. Charpak (after his retirement from CERN). It is a producer of small "start up" companies.
After receiving the Physics Prize in 1991, de Gennes decided to give talks on science, on innovation, and on common sense, to high school students. He visited around 200 high schools during 1992-1994. This story is summarized in a book (Les objets fragiles, Plon, Paris 1994).
Currently de Gennes is working at the Institut Curie (Paris), an interdisciplinary center and hospital on cancer research. He works on cellular adhesion and, more recently, on brain function.
Other recent books: Gouttes, bulles, perles et ondes (Belin, Paris 2003) with F. Brochard and D. Quéré. Petit point, a satirical book (Le Pommier, Paris 2003).
Pierre-Gilles de Gennes died on 18 May, 2007.
Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 2005
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