Google Doodle Celebrates Physicist Who Led to the Birth of Cinema

Joseph Plateau is known for being one of the first people to demonstrate the illusion of a moving image.

Google Doodle celebrated what would have been the 218th birthday of Belgian physicist Joseph Antoine Ferdinand Plateau, inventor of the phénakistiscope, a device that led to the birth of cinema by creating the illusion of a moving image.

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"Inspired by the mesmerizing animated discs, the animated Doodle art was made to reflect Plateau’s style, with different imagery and themes in them on different device platforms," read Google's description of the Doodle.

A child prodigy

Born in Brussels in 1801, Plateau was the son of an accomplished artist. At the age of six, the young Plateau was declared a child prodigy as he was able to read. In primary school, he was particularly fascinated by physics.

Unfortunately at the age of fourteen tragedy struck and he lost both his father and mother. The trauma from this event is said to have made him fall ill.

Still, he went on to study law and soon became one of the best-known Belgian scientists of the nineteenth century. He was best known for his work of physiological optics, in particular, the effect of light and color on the human retina.

Plateau’s doctoral dissertation explored how images form on the retina. Using this research, he was able to create a stroboscopic device in 1832 that created the illusion of a dancer in motion. This would be the beginning of cinema.

A loss of vision

Later in life, Plateau would lose his vision. He attributed this misfortune to an experiment he led where he gazed directly into the sun for 25 seconds.

This may not have been the case and it is suspected that he suffered from chronic uveitis.

Despite his loss of vision, he continued to have a productive career in science. He worked as a professor of experimental physics at Ghent University alongside his son Felix Plateau and his son-in-law Gustaaf Van der Mensbrugghe who would later become his biographer.

Today Plateau is known for being one of the first people to demonstrate the illusion of a moving image. Happy 218th birthday Joseph Plateau!

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