Françoise Brochard-Wyart, David Quéré, Madeleine Veyssié

Incredible Mister Pierre Gilles de Gennes Memories Publication date : May 17, 2017

The legacy of Pierre Gilles de Gennes, ten years after his death, is still a sensitive issue. Why?

Pierre-Gilles de Gennes (1932-2007), theoretical physicist and chemist, is as well known for his innovative research as for his pedagogical gifts. The jury of the Nobel Prize of physics crowned him in 1991, comparing him to Isaac Newton.
Texts gathered by Françoise Brochard, Madeleine Veyssié and David.

Why is the legacy of Pierre-Gilles de Gennes, ten years after his death, still so sensitive today? We remember the Nobel prize-winning media-darling physicist for his good-sense judgments about the relationship between science and society; we remember the exceptional pedagogue who went from school to school giving unforgettable lectures on soap bubbles; and we remember the academician, with his acerbic criticisms of the very French dichotomy between science and technology. There are hardly any current questions which were not addressed by the "gentleman physicist", whose trajectory is reminiscent of that of another Nobel prize-winner, the great Richard Feynman.
Among the texts, speeches, lectures and notes gathered here by faithful disciples, we find the main themes of his research. Between the infinitely large and small, de Gennes had focused on our macroscopic scale: from "soft matter" and liquid crystals to magnetism and superconductivity, from macromolecules to powder metallurgy, Pierre-Gilles de Gennes never ceased his leaping from one subject to another, with an inexhaustible curiosity that extended to literature and art, and beyond that to the transmission of knowledge. An activist for the rehabilitation of technology and apprenticeship, subjects which are currently very much in the news, he introduced the famous "supervised personal works" in high school, in which students would present the results of their research — and teach their teachers something!