Joseph Antoine Ferdinand Plateau: Birth, Education, Invention, Marriage and Death

joseph antoine ferdinand plateau


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Joseph Antoine Ferdinand Plateau was born on 14th October, 1801 in Brussels. He was the son of a flower painter. His father Antoine Plateau wanted him to have an artistic career as he was also a great artist and had a great talent of flower painting.



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Plateau did his schooling from Brussels itself. He was very intelligent and excelled in his studies. He took an active part in gaining knowledge and was so bright that he became the child prodigy (one who below the age of 10 who produces some meaningful new concept in some particular domain as an expert). He was very much attracted towards the experiments and certain observations and did further studies in physics also.

He received a great setback when he was just a small child of fourteen years that his father died. He became an orphan as his mother died only one year earlier from his father. He could not overcome from this big bruise and this incident made him fall ill.

After a little recovery, he started with his studies again and joined Athenaeum in Brussels to pursue his higher education in 1817. He completed his higher education in 1822 and rather than entering into the much higher degree of education, he took a path of the job as he was the only child to look after his sisters who were also left alone after their parents’ death. So, to earn, Plateau started teaching mathematics at the Athenaeum school in Brussels itself. Further, besides teaching, he continued with his studies and entered the University of Liège in 1829. He secured the degree for the doctor of physics and mathematical sciences from there.

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Plateau was very intelligent and had a very keen interest in finding conclusions and studying on some particular topics. He submitted his dissertation for the doctorate degree in 1829 to his mentor. His mentor was Adolphe Quetelet who was a Belgian astronomer. It had a few pages but a number of important conclusions. The dissertation contained only 27 pages. He gave significant conclusions which are still known as his accomplishments. He witnessed the effect of colors, duration, and intensity on the retina. He also concluded on the intersection of revolving curves known to be locus in geometry. One of the major conclusions included the distortions of the moving images. He also included the conclusions on anorthoscopic discs which demonstrated an optical illusion that turned an anamorphic picture on a disc into a normal image when the disc was spun fast. These were his dissertation conclusions and findings. Giving his findings on the effect of colors on the retina, he conducted an experiment in which he continuously stared at the sun for 25 seconds in 1829. Further in his life, he lost his eyesight in 1841.

In 1832, Plateau invented a device which made him famous and that was very helpful for further new inventions. He invented an instrument that was used to make a cyclically moving object appear to be slightly stationary (Stroboscopic device) that was named as “Phenakistiscope” (a device that created a fluent illusion of motion). It included different several discs and continuously displaying images. Hence the device gave an animated effect. With this device and the discs and other smaller objects used in it, later the concept of films was developed i.e. Cinema.

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As Plateau was alone and had nobody with him, he decided to marry. He married to Augustine–Thérèse–Aimée–Fanny Clavareau. They married on 27th August, 1840. One year later, the couple gave birth to a son. They were also parents to a daughter whom they named Alice Plateau. The couple had three children in all. Out of the three, two were sons namely Félix and Ernest and a daughter Alice.

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Interest in Physics and Mathematics


In 1841, Plateau lost his eyesight and was unable to teach students now. In 1844, he became a full Professor at the University of Ghent. He always remained interested in solving problems and experimenting with new things in order to find conclusions for the same.

In the field of Physics, he also studied two new concepts of capillary action and surface tension. In the field of Mathematics, he is still remembered for the Plateau’s problems. In mathematics, the existence of a minimal surface with a boundary was a problem and this problem was considered to be his problem and so they are termed as Plateau’s problems.

Another thing associated with him is Plateau’s laws i.e. the laws on the structure of soap films (thin layers of liquid surrounded by air). He investigated, researched and carried out a considerable number of studies on this concept of soap films also.

He was a science student from the very start and had a major and keen interest in physics and mathematics in which he loved to crack problems and to invent new things. His inventions are still considered and taken into use.

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Joseph Antoine Ferdinand Plateau died on the 15th of September, 1883. He became a great Physicist and mathematician. He invented a lot many new things in these fields which gave rise to many more advancements in today’s era.

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Plateau had received a lot many honors during his life as well as after his death. He is still remembered for the work and inventions he has given to the whole world.

During his life, he received honors by entering the Royal Belgium Academy of Science. In 1834, he was elected as the corresponding member of the Academy and after two years of him working as a corresponding member, he finally became the full member of the committee in 1836. Physics and Mathematics were his favourite subjects and he focused on inventing new things relating to these subjects only and in these fields, he received the quinquennial prize twice. In 1841, he was also named as the Knight of the Order of Leopold, later becoming the officer in 1859 and further at the highest post becoming the commander in 1872.

Plateau is still remembered. His ideas, conclusions, findings, researches, inventions are still used and people learn and read about him still. For his commemoration on his 218th birthday, the most widely used search engine Google on 14th October, 2019 commemorated the works and inventions of Plateau on his birthday through a Doodle. The animator, filmmaker and a doodler Olivia Huynh created this Doodle on his birthday which was reflected on the Google search engine. It went across on all the platforms wherever Google can be operated and by this act still in the 21st Century, Plateau is remembered after so many years.


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