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Nobelist Pierre-Gilles De Gennes Dies At 74 | iMechanica

Nobelist Pierre-Gilles De Gennes Dies At 74
Submitted by Serdar Goktepe on Fri, 2007-06-01 08:47.

* mechanician

Physicist worked in areas of liquid crystals, physical chemistry of adhesives
Linda R. Raber

Chemical & Engineering News

Pierre-Gilles
de Gennes, 74, a pioneer in the field of liquid crystals and recipient
of the 1991 Nobel Prize in Physics, died on May 18 at his home in
Orsay, near Paris. The cause of death was not reported. In a statement,
French President Nicolas Sarkozy described de Gennes as “an exceptional
physicist and one of our greatest scientists.”

De Gennes
received the Nobel Prize for his breakthrough work on liquid
crystals—substances that have the properties of both liquids and
solids—that are now found in products ranging from alarm clocks to
computer and television screens. De Gennes was cited by the Nobel
Committee “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.”

De
Gennes was born in Paris in 1932 and received his early education at
home. He later attended Ecole Normale Supérieure and received a Ph.D.
degree in 1957 while working on neutron scattering at the French Atomic
Energy Commission (CEA) in Saclay. In 1959, he was a postdoctoral
student with Charles Kittel at the University of California, Berkeley.
He joined the faculty of the University of Paris, Orsay, in 1961 and started a research program on the physics of solids.

In
1968, de Gennes changed the direction of his research toward liquid
crystals and was named a professor at the Collège de France in 1971. He
soon started a collaborative research project on polymer physics with
researchers at the University of Strasbourg and CEA. The joint project
became known as STRASACOL. De Gennes was named director of the Ecole
Supérieure de Physique et de Chimie Industrielle in 1976.

In
1984, de Gennes turned his attention to interfacial problems. His
research group defined general laws of wetting and dewetting,
explaining how liquid droplets behave on rough and smooth surfaces. In
1989, he began working in the physical chemistry of adhesives and
became a champion of soft-condensed matter physics. Fascinated by
superglues, he proposed in 1992 that “one day, we might be able to make
airplanes with glue instead of rivets, but the problem is that we don’t
understand how glues interact on surfaces that receive them.”

In
the late 1990s, de Gennes started working on the design of artificial
muscles with investigators at the Curie Institute. At the time of his
death, he was working on cellular adhesion and brain function.

De
Gennes was a member of the French Academy of Sciences, the French
Academy of Technologies, the Dutch Academy of Arts & Sciences, the
Royal Society, the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, and the
U.S. National Academy of Sciences.

Survivors include his wife and three children.

SOURCE: Chemical & Engineering News ISSN 0009-2347 Copyright © 2007 American Chemical Society

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