Néel, Louis Eugène Félix (1904-2000), a French physicist, shared the 1970 Nobel Prize in physics for his studies of magnetism on the atomic and molecular level. He shared the prize with Swedish physicist Hannes Olof Gösta Alfvén. His discoveries opened the way for applications ranging from microelectronics to the development of techniques to establish the age of fossils.
A graduate of the École Normale Supérieure (1928) in Paris, Néel began his research on magnetism at the University of Strasbourg, where he completed his doctorate degree (1932) and served as professor of physics (1937-1945). In support of the French war effort, Néel invented a method of demagnetizing warship hulls to protect them from magnetic mines. After the war, he established a laboratory for the study of electrostatics and the physics of metals at Grenoble, France. He also taught physics at the University of Grenoble (1945-1976) and headed the center for nuclear studies there (1956-1970).
Iron, steel, and other easily magnetizable metals are called ferromagnets. In ferromagnets each atom or group of atoms is a tiny magnet, groups of which line up with each other, forming an arrangement called a domain. Although the magnetic fields of different domains normally cancel each other out because they are not lined up, an outside magnetic field can align them. When a magnetized ferromagnet is heated, the magnetism is lost, since the faster vibration of atoms destroys the alignment of the domains.
In the early 1930's, he discovered antiferromagnetism, a condition of certain metals and alloys, whose domains' magnetism cancels out at low temperatures but can be aligned by an external magnetic field when heated above a temperature known as the Néel point. He also discovered ferrimagnets, materials that display a special form of antiferromagnetism, allowing them to be magnetized permanently like ferromagnets. Ferrimagnets are used in fabricating computer memory and recording tape.