Obituary: Alfred Saupe

Remembering Alfred Saupe (1925-2008)

Alfred SaupeAlfred Saupe, the grandfather of liquid crystals, died August 3, in Badenweiler, Germany, where he was born in 1925.

Saupe earned his doctorate from the University of Freiburg in 1958. This work resulted in the most successful mean-field theory of the isotropic nematic transition, known as the Maier-Saupe theory. He also proposed the technique of liquid crystal-NMR which is currently used to decipher the structure of complex molecules by placing them in the liquid crystal matrix, and observation of the optically induced reorientation.

In 1968, he moved to Kent State University, where, in 1969, he published another seminal work in which he not only proposed the first valid microscopic model of blue phases, but also predicted the helical structures of chiral SmC materials and laid down the elastic theory of tilted smectic phases.

Not less important was his discovery of the biaxiality in lyotropic nematic liquid crystals in 1980, and his subsequent continuum theory of these materials. Since the 1990s, he has been working on ferroelectric liquid crystal materials and polymer liquid crystal composites, leading to the explanation of the piezoelectricity and of the microscopic structures of the polymers in liquid crystals. Saupe retired from the university with emeritus status in 1992 and moved back to Germany.

Even after retiring and while suffering from Parkinsons disease, Saupe was actively involved in working on the K13 problem, and on a textbook (One-and two-dimensional fluids, co-authored by Antal (Tony) Jakli) aimed for graduate students and novices in the science of liquid crystals, published in 2006. He also continued to maintain a close collaboration with researchers in Kent. Saupe received numerous awards, such as the Nernst Prize in 1974, Humboldt Prize in 1987, Kent State Presidents Medal in 1992 and the Freedericksz Medal in 1999. He was also one of the first honored members of the International Liquid Crystal Society in 1998.

Nobel Laureate, P.G. de Gennes wrote about Al: “I personally met A. Saupe at a rather late stage, when I first visited the Mecca of Liquid Crystals around 1970, Kent State University. Saupe was then famous for his rigorous studies of alignment via nuclear resonance, but what I remember is the good will of my hosts, G. Brown and A. Saupe, facing a young theorist who knew very little about chemical physics and even less about liquid crystals. Their open minds, their will to show me the maximum, their sense of cooperation, impressed me enormously. I shall not forget those happy years.” (P.G. de Gennes, Paris, February 1996)

Saupe is survived by his loving wife, Brigitte, and three children Anja, Welf and Arne who understood him even when he was overwhelmed with work or with the disease. He will be missed not only by his family and friends, but also by the entire liquid crystal community.

POSTED: Sunday, August 3, 2008 - 1:48pm
UPDATED: Friday, December 7, 2018 - 4:01pm