Press release

Death of Louis Néel, Nobel Prize Winner, on November 17

Paris, November 20, 2000


Louis Néel, age 96, died on November 17, after a lifetime devoted to physics and magnetism in particular. He became a member of the French Academy of Sciences in 1953, and received the CNRS Gold Medal in 1965. In 1970, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics. As the founder and director of the CNRS "Laboratoire d'électrostatique et de physique du métal" in Grenoble (Laboratory for Electrostatics and Metal Physics), he played a crucial role in the development of this region as a center for scientific excellence, for which the research community is indebted to him.

Louis Néel began attending the Ecole Normale Supérieure at the age of 20 and prepared his doctoral thesis in Strasbourg, under the guidance of Professor Pierre Weiss, a specialist of the French school of magnetism. With his thesis, presented in 1932, he put forward a new understanding of the magnetic properties of certain bodies. In 1939, he was assigned to work with the French Navy to study magnetic mines. His work on the demagnetization of ships saved numerous lives.

During World War II, Louis Néel continued his research at the Fourier Institute in Grenoble. Along with his colleagues, he helped form a research group that after the War became the first CNRS laboratory in this region, the Laboratoire d'électrostatique et de physique du métal. This laboratory gave rise to other CNRS facilities, including the magnetism laboratory, the current Louis Néel Laboratory. He extended his magnetism research to other areas of solid physics, low temperatures, and to other disciplines related to physics of the globe and then nuclear physics.

In the 1950s, the magnetic diffraction of neutrons provided evidence that Louis Néel's theories on antiferromagnetism and ferrimagnetism were well-founded. He created and directed the "Centre d'Etudes Nucléaires de Grenoble" (CEN-G, Center for Nuclear Studies of Grenoble), where in 1958 Mélusine, the first neutron reactor, began operating. Following the success of neutron techniques, Louis Néel contributed to the project to build a high-flux Franco-German reactor (ILL) in Grenoble. He advocated the idea of creating a European facility that would be complementary to the ILL built at the same site; this was the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF).

Louis Néel held the Physics Chair at the University of Grenoble and was the President of the Institut Polytechnique in Grenoble. He may be credited with the creation of Institut National Polytechnique in Grenoble, as in Nancy and Toulouse

All his life, Louis Néel was a researcher attracted by applications and technologies, and a driving force in collaboration between science and industry, such as with Merlin-Gerin. He made a substantial contribution to building the scientific center of Grenoble as we know it today, a leading national and international center in key areas of physics such as electronics and informatics. The Nobel Prize for Physics, conferred in 1970, was a sign of the scientific community's recognition of his work, the repercussions of which are clear in today's magnetic recordings and mobile phones. After he retired, he remained active and continued to work with the Academy of Sciences, as a scientific advisor to French political leaders, and in his ongoing pursuit of scientific knowledge.

CNRS contacts :

Frédérique Laubenheimer
Mathematical and Physical Sciences Department
Tel: +33 1 44 96 42 63

Laboratoire Louis Néel (LLN)
Claudine Lacroix
Director of the Laboratory
Tel: +33 4 76 88 10 98