Materials Research Activities

Pierre-Gilles de Gennes biographical outline

Pierre-Gilles de Gennes

Biographical sketch:

Pierre-Gilles de Gennes was born in Paris, in 1932. He majored from the Ecole normale supérieure in 1955 and took his PhD in 1957. From 1955 to 1959, he was a research engineer at the Atomic Energy Commission in Saclay, working on neutron scattering and magnetism. During 1959, he was post-doctoral visitor with C. Kittel at Berkeley. When he became assistant professor at Orsay in 1961, he started a group on superconductors and authored The Superconductivity of Metals and Alloys (W.A. Benjamin, New York, Amsterdam,1966). In 1968 De Gennes switched to liquid crystals and published The Physics of Liquid Crystals (1974). Meanwhile, he became a Professor at the Collège de France in 1971 and started a collaborative research on polymer physics with Strasbourg and Saclay. The joint project became known as STRASACOL. De Gennes' contributions to this domain are described in Scaling Concepts in Polymer Physics, published in 1979. Since 1976, De Gennes has been the Director of the Ecole Supérieure de Physique et de Chimie industrielle, a well-known engineering school in Paris.

In 1984, De Gennes turned his attention to interfacial problems, in particular in the dynamics of wetting. His research group – Françoise Brochard, Jean-François Joanny, Jean-Marc Di Meglio, D. Quéré – defined general laws of wetting and dewetting which are of great interest for practical applications.

In 1989, De Gennes entered a new field, the physical chemistry of adhesives and became the champion of “soft-condensed matter physics”. In the late 1990s he started working on the design of artificial muscles with the Institut Curie. He is currently concerned with cellular adhesion.

De Gennes has received a number of honors and medals all over the world in addition to the Physics Nobel Prize in 1991 “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”. He is a member of the French Academy of Sciences, the French Academy of Technologies, the Dutch Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Royal Society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the National Academy of Sciences.

This page was last updated on 29 May 2002 by Arne Hessenbruch.