Home sci-tech Who is Joseph Plateau? Google celebrates 218th birthday of Belgian physicist

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Who is Joseph Plateau? Google celebrates 218th birthday of Belgian physicist

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Joseph Plateau is credited with inventing the phenakistiscope

Google is celebrating the 218th anniversary of Joseph Antoine Ferdinand Plateau, whose invention led to the birth of cinema.

The Google Doodle in his honor was created by animator and filmmaker Olivia Huynh and features works of art inspired by Plateau's invention.

But who is the Belgian physicist and what impact did his work have?

The young prodigy

Plateau was born in Brussels in 1901 and was the son of a talented painter.

He had learned to read at the age of six – making him exceptionally smart during the period – and developed a keen interest in physics in primary school.

The young prodigy began inventing instruments at home.

He lost his parents at 14 and moved to a village near Waterloo just before the battle began in 1815.

Inventing moving images

Although he studied law, Plateau's dissertation in 1829 focused on light and vision.

His research looked at how images form on the retina and the persistence of visual impressions, such as the way we see raindrops falling like lines.

Image:
Phenakistoscope is the first example of moving images

Three years later, he used his findings to create a phenakistoscope – and the first moving image.

The phenomenology is an instrument comprising two rotating disks that move in opposite directions. One disc is equipped with small windows and the other features images of a dancer.

When the discs are rotated at the right speed, the images create the illusion of a moving dancer.

It is believed that the device was invented simultaneously by Austrian professor Simon Stampfer, who was also studying the same optical illusion.

The invention paved the way for modern cinema.

Losing sight

In what may have been a cruel twist of fate, Plateau eventually lost his sight.

He believed that his blindness could have been caused by an experiment conducted in 1829, in which he stared directly at the sun for 25 seconds to understand the effects of light on the retina.

For several days later, he went blind and then saw colored halos around the light sources.

In 1841, he began to suffer from choroiditis, which led to his total loss of sight two years later.

Although he believed the disease was related to his experiment, modern ophthalmologists think it may be unrelated and possibly caused by a problem with the immune system.

Later discoveries

Despite the loss of vision, Plateau made new scientific discoveries.

A mathematical problem by the name of Plateau shows the existence of a minimal surface with a certain limit.

It also showed a tendency for liquids to shrink to the smallest possible surface area known as Plateau-Rayleigh instability.

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