Louis Eugène Félix Néel was a renowned French physicist who shared the 1970 Nobel Prize in Physics with Swedish astronomer Hannes Alfvén for his pioneering work on the magnetic properties of solids. As a Doctor of Science from the ‘University of Strasbourg,’ his research in the field of solid state physics resulted in several significant applications, most notably in the development of advanced memory units for computers. He proposed the existence of a new type of magnetic behavior called anti-ferromagnetism, which is in opposition to ferromagnetism. After reaching a certain temperature, the Néel temperature, the behavior ceases to exist. Additionally, he suggested the existence of materials that exhibit ferrimagnetism. His elucidation of the weak magnetism of certain rocks paved the way for the study of the Earth’s magnetic field. His contributions to national defense, particularly his studies on securing warships against magnetic mines, earned him several honors. He received the Légion d’honneur and was appointed Knight (1940), Officer (1951), Commander (1958), Grand Officier de la Légion d’honneur (1966), and Grand Cross (1966). (1974). In 1940, he was awarded France’s military decoration, the Croix de Guerre with Palms. Additionally, he was appointed ‘Commander of the Order of the Academic Palms’ in 1957, ‘Knight of the Social Order of Merit’ in 1963, and Grand Cross of the National Order of Merit in 1972. In 1966, he was elected to the Royal Society as a ‘Foreign Member of the Royal Society’ (ForMemRS).
Childhood & Adolescence
He was born in the family of M. Néel on November 22, 1904, in Lyons-la-Forêt, Eure, Upper Normandy, France.
He attended Lyon’s ‘Lycée du Parc’ before enrolling in Paris’s ‘École Normale Supérieure’ in 1924.
He was appointed a lecturer in 1928 after completing his studies at the ‘École Normale Supérieure’.
In 1932, he received a D.Sc. from the ‘University of Strasbourg’ under the supervision of French physicist Pierre-Ernest Weiss, who had developed the domain theory of ferromagnetism in 1907. He began his magnetism research in Professor Weiss’s laboratory in Strasbourg.
Career of Louis Néel
In the early 1930s, he concentrated his research on molecular-level magnetism, which differs from the most common type of magnetism, ferromagnetism. In the case of ferromagnetism, electrons spin in the same direction at low temperatures.
Néel discovered that in certain substances, the magnetic moments of molecules and atoms align with neighboring spins and point in opposite directions, exhibiting a distinct magnetic property called antiferromagnetism. However, such behavior ceases to exist above a certain temperature. After him, the temperature level is named ‘Néel temperature.’
His research on fine-grain ferromagnetics aided in the elucidation of the exceptional magnetic memory of certain mineral deposits, providing us with data on changes in both the strength and direction of the Earth’s magnetic field.
In 1937, he was appointed Professor at the ‘University of Strasbourg’s Faculty of Science, where he remained until 1945.
Meanwhile, in 1939, he was drafted into the military and assigned the responsibility of protecting French ships from German magnetic mines. He devised a novel method of neutralization in order to safeguard the ships.
He relocated to Grenoble in 1940 following the Armistice, where he founded the ‘Laboratoire d’Electrostatique et de Physique du Métal’. In 1946, the laboratory was designated as an external laboratory of the ‘Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique.’
In 1945, he was appointed Professor at Grenoble University’s science department, where he remained until 1976.
He joined the Board of Directors of the French National Center for Scientific Research, C.N.R.S., in 1949 and served until 1969.
In 1952, he joined the French Navy as a scientific adviser. He was a member of the ‘Scientific Committee of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’ as a representative of France.
In 1953, he was elected a member of the French Academy of Sciences.
He was Director of the Polytechnic Institute in Grenoble and also of the Ecole Française de Papeterie from 1954 to 1970. He was then elected President of the ‘Institut National Polytechnique’ in Grenoble in 1970.
He also played a role in the establishment of the ‘Centre d’Etudes Nucléaires de Grenoble’ in 1956 as a division of the ‘French Atomic Energy Commission. He remained the Center’s Director until 1971.
In 1963, he was elected President of the ‘International Union of Pure and Applied Physics,’ a position he held until 1966.
He was involved in the decision to build the Franco-German high-flux reactor in Grenoble in 1967.
Apart from discovering antiferromagnetism and ferrimagnetism and their implications, he shed light on a variety of other aspects of magnetism, including superantiferromagnetism, the magnetic properties of fine grains, the theory of Rayleigh’s Laws, and internal dispersion fields. Néel published over 200 articles on theoretical issues and other facets of magnetism, elucidating how magnetic molecules behave.
He was elected as a Foreign Member of several eminent academies, including the ‘Royal Dutch Academy of Science’ (1959), the ‘Soviet Academy of Science’ (1959), the ‘Deutsche Akademie der Naturforscher Leopoldina’ (1964), the ‘Rumanian Academy’ (1965), the ‘American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ (1966), and the ‘Royal Society’ of London (1966). (1966). He was also an honorary member and President of the ‘Société Française de Physique’.
Several universities bestowed honorary doctorates on him, including the ‘University of Nottingham’ in 1951, the ‘University of Oxford’ in 1958, and the ‘University of Newcastle’ in 1965.
Significant Works of Louis Néel
His contributions and discoveries regarding magnetic properties aided electronic engineers in developing extremely small particles capable of magnetically storing data in the memory core of a computer, significantly improving the memory units of computers.
Néel’s work enabled the fabrication of ferromagnetic materials with virtually any specification, which paved the way for the development of several new synthetic ferrite materials, revolutionizing the world of microwave electronics.
Awards and Accomplishments of Louis Néel
In 1970, he shared the ‘Nobel Prize in Physics’ with Swedish physicist Hannes Alfvén.
Personal History and Legacies
In 1931, he married Hélène Hourticq. Marie Françoise, Marguerite, and Pierre were their three children.
While Marie Françoise became a Conseil d’Etat Attachée d’Administration, Pierre became a television producer, and Marguerite married Guély, a Professeur agrégée d’histoire.
Néel died on November 17, 2000, in the commune of Brive-la-Gaillarde, France, at the age of 95.
Estimated Net Worth
The estimated net worth of Louis Néel is unknown.
Since 1994, the ‘European Geophysical Society’ has awarded the ‘Louis Néel Medal’ annually.