Friday, March 26, 2004
Often I read articles like this one from the Boston Globe (which called de Gennes "the Isaac Newton of our time") and I think ehhh. I mean no one would suggest that Nobleists are full of it exactly, but there's a fair amount of distance between doing even really great, pheonomenally important science and Newton. The line I'm trying to draw here is this: Newton's work was remarkable both for its intellectual import but also, and perhaps more remarkably, for its almost self-evidently right quality. Reading Newton you get the sense that not only is this obviously how the world works, I would never have seen it. de Gennes has exactly this kind of talent. A talent for simplifying and universalizing: for seeing how all science really is (to paraphrase Kelvin) either physics or accounting. His is the sort of talent that all scientists think they have when they start out. Wow.