Pierre-Gilles de Gennes

Pierre-Gilles de Gennes (French: [ʒɛn]; October 24, 1932 May 18, 2007) was a French physicist and the Nobel Prize laureate in physics in 1991.[2][3][4][5]

Pierre-Gilles de Gennes
Born(1932-10-24)October 24, 1932
DiedMay 18, 2007(2007-05-18) (aged 74)
Alma materÉcole Normale Supérieure
University of Paris
Known forSoft matter
Polymer physics
Liquid crystalline elastomer
Scientific career

Education and early life

He was born in Paris, France, and was home-schooled to the age of 12. By the age of 13, he had adopted adult reading habits and was visiting museums.[6] Later, de Gennes studied at the École Normale Supérieure. After leaving the École in 1955, he became a research engineer at the Saclay center of the Commissariat à l'Énergie Atomique, working mainly on neutron scattering and magnetism, with advice from A. Abragam and Jacques Friedel. He defended his Ph.D. in 1957 at the University of Paris.[7][8]

Career and research

In 1959, he was a postdoctoral research visitor with Charles Kittel at the University of California, Berkeley, and then spent 27 months in the French Navy. In 1961, he was assistant professor in Orsay and soon started the Orsay group on superconductors. In 1968, he switched to studying liquid crystals.[9]

In 1971, he became professor at the Collège de France, and participated in STRASACOL (a joint action of Strasbourg, Saclay and Collège de France) on polymer physics. From 1980 on, he became interested in interfacial problems: the dynamics of wetting and adhesion.

More recently, he worked on granular materials and on the nature of memory objects in the brain.

Awards and honours

He was awarded the Harvey Prize, Lorentz Medal and Wolf Prize in 1988 and 1990. In 1991, he received the Nobel Prize in physics. He was then director of the École Supérieure de Physique et de Chimie Industrielles de la Ville de Paris (ESPCI), a post he held from 1976 until his retirement in 2002.

P.G. de Gennes has also received the F.A. Cotton Medal for Excellence in Chemical Research of the American Chemical Society in 1997, 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; and polymer awards from both APS and ACS.

He was awarded the above-mentioned Nobel Prize 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".

The Royal Society of Chemistry awards the De Gennes Prize biennially, in his honour.[10] He was elected a Foreign Member of the Royal Society (ForMemRS) in 1984.[1][11] He was awarded A. Cemal Eringen Medal in 1998.

Personal life

He married Anne-Marie Rouet [12][6] (born in 1933) in June 1954.[13] They remained married until his death and had three children together: Christian (born December 9, 1954), Dominique (born May 6, 1956) and Marie-Christine (born January 11, 1958).[13]

He also has four children with physicist Françoise Brochard-Wyart (born in 1944) who was one of his former doctoral students and then colleague and co-author.[12] The children are: Claire Wyart (born February 16, 1977),[14] Matthieu Wyart (born May 24, 1978), Olivier Wyart (born August 3, 1984) and Marc de Gennes (born January 16, 1991).[13]

Professors John Goodby and George Gray noted in an obituary:[15] "Pierre was a man of great charm and humour, capable of making others believe they, too, were wise. We will remember him as an inspirational lecturer and teacher, an authority on Shakespeare, an expert skier who attended conference lectures appropriately attired with skis to hand, and, robed in red, at the Bordeaux liquid crystal conference in 1978, took great delight in being inaugurated as a Vignoble de St Émilion."

In 2003 he was one of 22 Nobel Laureates who signed the Humanist Manifesto.[16]

On 22 May 2007, his death was made public as official messages and tributes poured in.[6]

On nuclear fusion he was quoted as saying, "We say that we will put the Sun into a box. The idea is pretty. The problem is, we don't know how to make the box."


  1. "Fellowship of the Royal Society 1660-2015". London: Royal Society. Archived from the original on 2015-07-15.
  2. Joanny, Jean-François; Pincus, Philip A. (August 2007). "Obituary: Pierre-Gilles de Gennes". Physics Today. 60 (8): 71–72. Bibcode:2007PhT....60h..71J. doi:10.1063/1.2774111.
  3. Biography and Nobel lecture on Nobel Prize page
  4. An Obituary of Gennes in the Hindu.com
  5. Ajdari, Armand (July 2007). "Physics. Pierre-Gilles de Gennes (1932-2007)". Science. 317 (5837): 466. doi:10.1126/science.1146688. PMID 17656713.
  6. Plévert, Laurence (2011). Pierre-Gilles de Gennes: A Life in Science. World Scientific Publishing. doi:10.1142/8182. ISBN 978-981-4355-25-4.
  7. Selected bibliography on the College de France website Archived 2010-12-27 at the Wayback Machine
  8. Nature des Objets de mémoire : le cas de l'olfaction conférence novembre 2006.(in French)
  9. David Dunmur & Tim Sluckin (2011) Soap, Science, and Flat-screen TVs: a history of liquid crystals, pp 1838, Oxford University Press ISBN 978-0-19-954940-5
  10. "de Gennes Prize". Royal Society of Chemistry.
  11. Joanny, Jean-François; Cates, Michael (2019). "Pierre-Gilles de Gennes. 24 October 1932—18 May 2007". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. 66: 143–158. doi:10.1098/rsbm.2018.0033.
  12. Brochard-Wyart, Françoise (July 2007). "Obituary: Pierre-Gilles de Gennes (1932–2007)". Nature. 448 (7150): 149. doi:10.1038/448149a. ISSN 1476-4687.
  13. "Pierre-Gilles de Gennes", Wikipédia (in French), 2019-07-11, retrieved 2019-08-08
  14. "Claire Wyart", Wikipédia (in French), 2018-12-17, retrieved 2019-08-08
  15. Goodby, John; Gray, George (2007-06-04). "Obituary: Pierre-Gilles de Gennes". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2019-08-08.
  16. "Notable Signers". Humanism and Its Aspirations. American Humanist Association. Retrieved October 1, 2012.
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