Pierre-Gilles de Gennes


Pierre-Gilles de Gennes
(1932)

French physicist, who was awarded the 1991 Nobel Prize for Physics for his discoveries about the ordering of molecules in liquid crystals and polymers.
The son of a physician, Gennes studied at the Ecole Normale Superieure ("Upper Normal School"). He was employed as an engineer at the French Atomic Energy Commission (1955-61) and then was a professor with the Orsay Liquid Crystals Group of the University of Paris (1961-71) and a professor at the College de France (from 1971).

Gennes investigated how extremely complex forms of matter behave during the transition from order to disorder. He showed how electrically or mechanically induced phase changes transform liquid crystals from a transparent to an opaque state, the phenomenon exploited in liquid-crystal displays. His research on polymers contributed to understanding how the long molecular chains in molten polymers move, making it possible for scientists to better determine and control polymer properties. A few of the judges on the Nobel committee described Gennes as "the Isaac Newton of our time" in having successfully applied mathematics to generalized explanations of several different physical phenomena.



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