◀ ▲ ▶History / 19th-century / Person: Plateau, Joseph Antoine Ferdinand
Person: Plateau, Joseph Antoine Ferdinand
Joseph Plateau was a Belgian mathematician best known for Plateau's problem on surfaces of minimal area.
Mathematical Profile (Excerpt):
- He wanted Joseph to follow an artistic career and his schooling was arranged with this aim.
- After excelling at primary school, Joseph was sent to the Academy of Fine Arts.
- Joseph had a serious illness around this time and for a while could not attend the Academy.
- Although the training at the Academy was mainly in the arts, Plateau's interests were in science.
- These were not simply for his own amusement, for the young Plateau was putting on a show to entertain an audience.
- Plateau entered the Athenaeum in Brussels in 1817 to complete his secondary education.
- A fellow pupil at the Athenaeum, Pierre Verhulst, provided someone with whom Plateau could spend many hours in deep scientific discussions, while both were strongly encouraged by their teacher Quetelet who became their friend.
- It was Quetelet who arranged for Plateau and his friends to frequently visit the National Observatory which encouraged his interest in astronomy.
- In 1822 Plateau graduated from the Athenaeum having achieved outstanding success.
- However, although Plateau had shown great ability in these subjects, they were not the ones which interested him.
- It was through Quetelet's influence that Plateau was offered the position of extraordinary professor of physics at the University of Ghent in 1835.
- 1840 was important for another reason for Plateau, for in that year he first began experiments which would lead him to study minimal surfaces.
- Although Plateau had carried out his experiment of staring at the sun in 1829, he had retained reasonable vision until 1841.
- Although bodily Plateau remained plunged in the darkness of a sad profound night, the perspicacity of his mind, having become more intensive than ever, was to lead to the most brilliant discoveries and to conquer for Belgium science an immortal glory.
- Despite now being unable to teach because of his blindness, Plateau was made a full professor at the University of Ghent on 29 June 1844.
- Plateau's first major contributions were related to the work of his doctorate on perceptions of colour by the human eye.
- He is best remembered in mathematics, however, for Plateau Problems.
- Plateau noticed that the drops of oil formed into perfect spheres in the mixture.
- Plateau also wrote some mathematical articles on number theory and wrote a joint article with Quetelet.
- Plateau received many honours.
Born 14 October 1801, Brussels, French Empire (now Belgium). Died 15 September 1883, Ghent, Belgium.
View full biography at MacTutor
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Thank you to the contributors under CC BY-SA 4.0!
Adapted from other CC BY-SA 4.0 Sources:
- O’Connor, John J; Robertson, Edmund F: MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive