Biography of Joseph Antoine Ferdinand Plateau

Joseph Antoine Ferdinand Plateau (October 14, 1801 – September 15, 1883) Belgian physicist and mathematician. Author of the principle of persistence of vision and inventor of the phenakistiscop  (1832). Due to his achievements, Joseph Antoine Ferdinand Plateau considered the forerunner of cinema.

He studied Arts, Law, Mathematics, and Physics, obtaining a doctorate from the latter in 1829. He was a professor at the Athenaeum College in Brussels and at the University of Ghent. However, he lost his sight in 1844.

Joseph Antoine Ferdinand Plateau
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He continued to work as a teacher and researcher until his death. He is also the author of the law that bears his name.

Family And Studies of Joseph Antoine Ferdinand Plateau

He was born in Brussels on October 14, 1801. His father was a renowned painter, who hoped to become an artist, so he initially studied arts at the Academy of Design. After his father died, Joseph was left in the care of his uncle Thirion, a lawyer who reportedly put an end to his artistic education.

Then he studied at the Royal Athenaeum of Brussels and then entered the University of Liège in 1822. There he studied in Philosophy and Letters and Mathematics and Physics. You can also check biography of Thomas Brodie-sangster

Joseph Antoine Ferdinand Plateau received his doctorate in 1829 with a thesis in which he investigated the impressions produced by light in the visual organ.

These investigations led to the formulation of the persistence of vision principle, also studied by Peter Mark Roget.

Trajectory and contributions

After graduating, he focused on the study of light, the visual organ and how it processes images and post-images.

From 1827, he worked with a professor at the Atheneum in Brussels; and in 1828, he conducted a series of post-image studies in which he experimented by looking at the sun for several seconds. This caused his visual acuity to decrease for several days.


Based on his studies on the persistence of vision and afterimages, he created the phenakistoscope in 1832, a rotating device in which a series of images were captured. When rotating gave the impression of being in motion.

This invention would be the forerunner of the Lumière brothers’ cinematography at the end of the 19th century.

Three years later, he appointed as a professor of physics at the University of Ghent; There, he also taught astronomy and experimental physics.

The following year he formulated the laws of the stroboscopic effect (1836), with which he explained the illusion of movement created by his machine.

He explained that the human eye creates the illusion of movement by perceiving a series of images that move one after another at a certain speed thanks to the visual organ’s functional laziness.

He suffers diagnosis with bilateral chorioretinitis in 1840 after experiencing blurred vision, which led to cataracts and blindness in 1844.

However, this did not stop him. In the following years, he continued teaching and researching with his son Felix Plateau and his son-in-law Gustaaf Van der Mensbrugghe.

In his last years of life, he studied the phenomenon of capillarity, experimenting with soap bubbles, which led him to formulate the laws that today bear his name (Laws of Plateau).

Joseph Antoine Ferdinand Plateau died in Ghent on September 15, 1883.


Joseph Antoine Ferdinand Plateau

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