Obituary French Nobel laureate Pierre-Gilles de Gennes, a pioneer of the liquid crystal display (LCD), died last week at the age of 74.
De Gennes, dubbed the Isaac Newton of our time, won the 1991 Nobel Prize for Physics for his groundbreaking work in liquid crystals and polymers. After graduating from the Ecole Normale Superieure, he worked on neutron scattering and magnetism before moving to supraconductors and liquid crystals.
The work on LCDs, now a standard feature in notebooks, flat screen TVs, and mobile phones, started during the student riots in Paris in 1968. He discovered several electromagnetic properties of liquid crystals, including how the orientation of their molecules can change when an electric field is applied.
That research led to the development of a whole new industry.
However, de Gennes was certainly not the only researcher working on properties of liquid crystals. The first operational LCD based on the Dynamic Scattering Mode (DSM) had already been introduced in 1968 by a group at RCA in the USA headed by George Heilmeier. Heilmeier then founded Optel, which introduced a number of LCDs based on this technology. In 1972, the first active-matrix liquid crystal display panel was produced in the United States by T Peter Brody.
De Gennes had a wide range of interests - he had a passion for painting and drawing and even wrote a satirical book. Ten years ago he suddenly took up acting, when he took part in a movie about Pierre and Marie Curie, playing the role of delivery man alongside French stars Isabelle Huppert and Philippe Noiret.