Childhood & Early Life
He was born on November 22, 1904, in Lyons-la-Forêt, Eure in Upper Normandy, France, in the family of M. Néel.
He attended the ‘Lycée du Parc’ in Lyon and then joined the ‘École Normale Supérieure’ in Paris in 1924.
After completing his studies at the ‘École Normale Supérieure’ in 1928 he was inducted as a lecturer.
He earned a D.Sc. from the ‘University of Strasbourg’ in 1932 under the guidance of French physicist Pierre-Ernest Weiss who in 1907 developed the domain theory of ferromagnetism. It is under Professor Weiss that he started his research in magnetism in the latter’s lab in Strasbourg.
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He focussed his research on molecular level, types of magnetism that vary from the most common form of magnetism, the ferromagnetism, in the early 1930s. In case of ferromagnetism, while at low temperature, the electrons spin in same direction.
Néel discovered that in certain substances the magnetic moments of molecules and atoms line up in a common pattern with neighbouring spins and point in opposite directions thus exhibiting a different magnetic property that came to be known as antiferromagnetism. However such behavior ceases to exist at a certain level of temperature or higher than that. The temperature level is named 'Néel temperature' after him.
His investigations on the fine-grain ferromagnetics contributed in elucidating the exceptional magnetic memory of certain mineral deposits that equipped us with data on alterations in the strength as also direction of the magnetic field of Earth.
In 1937 he was appointed a Professor at the Faculty of Science at the ‘University of Strasbourg’ where he served till 1945.
Meanwhile in 1939 he was called upon for defence service and delegated with the responsibility of protecting the French ships from magnetic mines of Germany. He discovered a new procedure of neutralization to safeguard the ships.
Following the Armistice, he relocated to Grenoble in 1940 where he set up the ‘Laboratoire d'Electrostatique et de Physique du Métal’. The lab was included as an external laboratory of ‘Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique’ in 1946.
In 1945 he became a Professor in the university at Grenoble in its science department and served there till 1976.
In 1949 he became a member of the Board of Directors of the French National Centre for Scientific Research, C.N.R.S., and remained so till 1969.
In 1952 he became a scientific adviser to the French Navy. He participated as a representative of France at the ‘Scientific Committee of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’.
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The French Academy of Science elected him a member in 1953.
From 1954 to 1970 he served as Director of the Polytechnic Institute in Grenoble and also of Ecole Française de Papeterie. Thereafter in 1970 he was inducted by the ‘Institut National Polytechnique’ in Grenoble as President.
He also contributed in developing the ‘Centre d'Etudes Nucléaires de Grenoble’ in 1956 as a part of ‘French Atomic Energy Commission’. He remained Director of the Center till 1971.
The ‘International Union of Pure and Applied Physics’ made him its President in 1963, a position he held till 1966.
In 1967 he participated in the decision making of installing the Franco-German high-flux reactor in Grenoble.
Apart from discovering the theories of antiferromagnetism and ferrimagnetism and their ramifications, he shed light on many other facets of magnetism such as superantiferromagnetism, magnetic properties of fine grains, theory of Rayleigh's Laws; and internal dispersion fields among others. Over 200 publications of Néel dealt with theoretical problems and other facets of magnetism elucidating the way magnetic molecules act.
He became Foreign Member of several prestigious academies including ‘Royal Dutch Academy of Science’ (1959), ‘Soviet Academy of Science’ (1959), ‘Deutsche Akademie der Naturforscher Leopoldina’ (1964), ‘Rumanian Academy’ (1965), ‘American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ (1966) and ‘Royal Society’ of London (1966). He was also an honorary member of the ‘Société Française de Physique’ and became its President in 1957.
He was conferred honorary doctorate from several universities including ‘University of Nottingham’ in 1951, ‘University of Oxford’ in 1958 and ‘University of Newcastle’ in 1965.
His contributions and discoveries related to magnetic properties aided electronic engineers in developing very small particles that can store data magnetically in the memory core of a computer, which helped enhance the memory units of computer to a great extent.
Such works of Néel made manufacture of ferromagnetic materials of almost any specification possible and that in turn paved the way for developing several new synthetic ferrite materials thereby revolutionizing the world of microwave electronics.
Personal Life & Legacy
He got married to Hélène Hourticq in 1931. They were blessed with three children, Marie Françoise, Marguerite and Pierre.
While Marie Françoise became an Attachée d'Administration at the Conseil d'Etat, Pierre became a television producer and Marguerite got married to Guély, Professeur agrégée d'histoire.
Néel passed away on November 17, 2000, at the age of 95 in Brive-la-Gaillarde, a commune of France.