Joseph Antoine Ferdinand Plateau: Wiki, Bio, Invention, Research, History

Joseph Antoine Ferdinand Plateau

Who Joseph Antoine Ferdinand Plateau?

The Belgian physicist and mathematician Joseph Antoine Ferdinand Plateau (October 14th, 1801 – September 15th, 1883). In this way, he used counterrotating discs with repeated images drawn with small increments of motion in one slit and regularly spaced in the other [1]. He was also the first person to prove the illusion of a moving image. He named the phenakistiscope this device in 1832.


Plateau was born in Brussels. The talented floral painter was his father, Antoine Plateau (fr), born Tournai. The younger plateau could already read at the age of six, turning it into a child prodigy at this time. He was particularly impressed with a lesson in physics during his primary school; he vowed to discover their secrets one day with the experiments he had observed. Plateau, his cousin, and playfellow was Auguste Payan, who later became an architect and principal designer of the Belgian railways, spent his school holidays in Marche-Les-Dames, with his uncle and family. He lost his mother and father at 14 years of age. He was ill with the trauma caused by that loss.

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On 27 August 1840, Augustine–Thérèse–Aimée–Fanny Clavareau married Plateau, and a year later, they had their son. Gustave Van der Mensbrugghe [nl] was married to his daughter Alice Plateau in 1871, who later became his collaborator and the first biographer.

Plateau, fascinated by the persistence of light impressions on the retina, performed an experiment in which for 25 seconds he looked directly into the sun. Later in his life, he lost his eyesight and attributed the loss. This may not be the case, however, and instead, chronic uveitis may have been experienced.

In 1872, Plateau became a foreign member of the Academy of Arts and Sciences of the Royal Netherlands.

As to his character Grosjean and Rassias write in [2]:

His memory seldom left him down and, unlike most people, he got prodigious when he grew older. He was very humorous and lively. In his house, he loved visiting scholars and liked to welcome them. He reached his old age in excellent physical and mental conditions, with the exception of his blindness.

A lot of honors were awarded to Plateau. He was elected to the Royal Belgium Academy of Science as a corresponding member on 15 April 1834, and on 15 December 1836, he was elected as a full member.

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His five-year mathematics and physics prize was awarded twice, first in 1854 for his work during 1849-1853, and then for his second job from 1869 through 1864-68. He was later promoted Officer on 15 December 1859 and finally commander on 28 May 1872. He was appointed Knight of the Order of Leopold on 13 December 1841.

Academic career

In 1829 he received his degree in physical and mathematical science from Plateau, University of Liège.

Plateau was appointed a teacher of mathematics at the Brussels school “Atheneum” in 1827.

The Supreme Court of Canada In 1835 he was appointed professor of physics at the University of Ghent.


In 1829, Plateau gave advice to his mentor, Adolph Quetelet, on his doctoral thesis. There were only 27 pages but a number of important conclusions were drawn. The first research results of the study contained colors on the retina (duration, intensity, color, etc), the observation of distortions of moving images, and the reconstruction of distorted images through counter-rotating discs (duration, intensity, and color) (he dubbed these anorthoscopic discs). In 1832 Plateau invented the first device to illustrate the moving picture, the “phenakistiscope.” [3]

It was made of two discs, one with small equidistant radial windows that could be viewed by the viewer and one with a sequence of images. The synchronization of the windows and images created an animation effect as the two discs rotated at the correct speed. The film development ultimately resulted in the projecting of strobe photographs creating the illusion of motion. [3]

Joseph Antoine Ferdinand Plateau

Plateau’s problem

In addition, Plateau studied capillary action and surface tension phenomena. [4] After it is named the mathematical problem of a minimal surface with a certain boundary. He studied soap films extensively and formulated Plateau’s laws, which describe structures that form foams.

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On 14 October 2019, on its 218th birthday, the Google search engine celebrated the Plateau with a Doodle. This doodle was made with inspiration and assistance from Diana Tran and Tom Tabanao by the animator, filmmaker, and Doodler Olivia Huynh. It’s the first Google Doodle with various works of art to appear on various device displays—desktop, mobile, and the Google App [5].


[1] Goethe’s Theory of Colours”. Note to Paragraph 23

[2] C C Grosjean and T M Rassias, Joseph Plateau and his works, in The problem of Plateau (River Edge, NJ, 1992), 3-17.

[3] Van der Mensbrugghe, G. (1885), “Notice sur Joseph Antoine Ferdinand Plateau” Notice on Joseph Antoine Ferdinand Plateau, Annuaire (in French), Brussels: Royal Academies for Science and the Arts of Belgium, LI: 389–486, ISBN 9780429682223, JFM 17.0018.01, OCLC 40831097, archived from the original (PDF) on 12 December 2011 A commemorative paper of nearly 100 pages describing many aspects of his life and research, including a portrait of him and authored by his son in Law, Gustaaf Van der Mensbrugghe.

[4] Plateau, J. (1873). Statique expérimentale et théorique des liquides soumis aux seules forces moléculaires [Experimental and theoretical statics of liquids subject to only molecular forces] (in French). Paris, France: Gauthier-Villars. OCLC 809459725. vol. 1 and vol. 2.

[5] “Joseph Antoine Ferdinand Plateau’s 218th Birthday”Google. 14 October 2019. Retrieved 14 October 2019.

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