FULLNAME: Joseph Antoine Ferdinand Plateau BIRTHDAY: 14 October 1801 DEATHDAY: 15 September 1883 NATIONALITY: Belgian ALMAMATER: University of Liège FAMOUSFOR: Physics of soap bubbles (Plateau's laws), Plateau's problem, LAWS INVENTIONS: Phenakistiscope (1832) |

Joseph Plateau was a Belgian physicist and mathematician. He was one of the first people to demonstrate the illusion of a moving image. To do this, he used counterrotating disks with repeating drawn images in small increments of motion on one and regularly spaced slits in the other. He called this device the phenakistiscope.

Plateau was born in Brussels. At the age of six, he could already read, making him a child prodigy in those times. While attending primary school, he was impressed by a lesson of physics and vowed to discover their secrets someday. Plateau studied at the State University of Liège, where he graduated as a doctor of physical and mathematical sciences in 1829.

In 1829, Plateau submitted his doctoral thesis to his mentor Adolphe Quetelet for advice. It contained only 27 pages but formulated a great number of fundamental conclusions. It contained the first results of his research into the effect of colours on the retina (duration, intensity, and colour), his mathematical research into the intersections of revolving curves (locus), the observation of the distortion of moving images, and the reconstruction of distorted images through counter revolving discs (he dubbed these anorthoscopic discs).

In 1832, Plateau invented an early stroboscopic device, the "phenakistiscope", the first device to give the illusion of a moving image. It consisted of two disks, one with small equidistant radial windows, through which the viewer could look, and another containing a sequence of images. When the two disks rotated at the correct speed, the synchronization of the windows and the images created an animated effect. The projection of stroboscopic photographs, creating the illusion of motion, eventually led to the development of cinema.

Plateau also studied the phenomena of capillary action and surface tension. The mathematical problem of existence of a minimal surface with a given boundary is named after him. He conducted extensive studies of soap films and formulated Plateau's laws, which describe the structures formed by such films in foams.

Plateau's laws describe the structure of soap films. These laws were formulated in the 19th century by Plateau from his experimental observations. Many patterns in nature are based on foams obeying these laws.

Plateau's problem is to show the existence of a minimal surface with a given boundary, a problem raised by Joseph-Louis Lagrange in 1760. However, it is named after Plateau who experimented with soap films. The problem is considered part of the calculus of variations. The existence and regularity problems are part of geometric measure theory.

More info from a beautiful biography here: https://mathshistory.st-andrews.ac.uk/Biographies/Plateau/

Last Updated: