Who is Joseph Plateau? Google celebrates 218th birthday of Belgian physicist | Science & Tech News

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

The Google Doodle in his honour has been created by animator and filmmaker Olivia Huynh and features artwork inspired by Plateau’s invention.

But who is the Belgian physicist and what impact has his work had?

The young prodigy

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

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

The young prodigy began inventing instruments at home.

He had lost both his parents by the age of 14 and moved to a village near Waterloo, shortly before the battle broke out in 1815.

Inventing moving images

Although he initially studied law, Plateau’s 1829 dissertation focused on light and vision.

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

Image:
The phenakistoscope is the first example of moving images

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

The phenakistoscope is an instrument which comprises two rotating discs moving in opposite directions. One disc is fitted with small windows and the other features images of a dancer.

When the discs are turned at the right speed, the images create the illusion of a dancer in motion.

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

The invention has paved the way for modern cinema.

Losing his vision

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

He believed his blindness may have been caused by an experiment he did in 1829 in which he looked directly into the sun for 25 seconds to understand the effects of light on the retina.

For several days afterwards, he became blind and later saw brightly coloured halos around light sources.

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

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

Later discoveries

Despite his sight loss, Plateau went on to make further scientific discoveries.

A mathematical problem named after Plateau shows the existence of a minimal surface with a given boundary.

He also showed the tendency of liquids to shrink into the smallest possible surface area, known as the Plateau-Rayleigh instability.



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