1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Plateau, Joseph Antoine Ferdinand
PLATEAU, JOSEPH ANTOINE FERDINAND (1801-1883), Belgian physicist, was born at Brussels on the 14th of October 1801, and died on the 15th of September 1883 at Ghent, where he had been professor from 1835. He was a pupil and friend of L. A. J. Quetelet, who had much influence on the early part of his character. The more original investigations of Plateau refer chiefly to portions of one or another of two branches of science—physiological optics and molecular forces. We owe to him the "stroboscopic" method of studying the motion of a vibrating body, by looking at it through equidistant radial slits in a revolving disk. In 1829 he imprudently gazed at the midday sun for twenty seconds, with a view of studying the after effects. The result was blindness for some days, succeeded by a temporary recovery; but for the next fourteen years his sight gradually deteriorated, and in 1843 he became permanently blind. This calamity did not interrupt his scientific activity. Aided by his wife and son, and afterwards by his son-in-law G. L. van der Mensbrugghe, he continued to the end of his life his researches on vision—directing the course of his experiments which they made for him, and interpreting the bearing of the results. He also published a valuable analytical catalogue of all the more important memoirs which had been written, from the earliest times to the end of the 18th century, on his favourite theme of subjective visual phenomena. But even more extraordinary were this blind man's investigations about molecular forces, embracing hundreds of novel experiments whose results he saw only with others' eyes. These form the subject of his great work Statique expérimentale et théorique des liquides soumis aux seules forces moleculaires (2 vols., 1873), a valuable contribution to our knowledge of capillary phenomena. His son, Félix Auguste Joseph Plateau (b. 1841), became professor of zoology and comparative anatomy at Ghent in 1870.