Leon Foucault

There have been so many physicians in the past century and sometimes, they fade into obscurity but one name that is remembered up until today is that of Leon Foucault. He was a physicist from France who was perhaps most famous for a demonstration he using the Foucault pendulum-a delightful device that was able to demonstrate the outcome of the rotation made by the Earth. He was also one of the earliest scientists to attempt to measure light speed and he was the same person who firs found out about eddy currents. Although he wasn’t the one to invent the gyroscope, he was credited for naming it. Recently, search engine giant Google honored the scientist’s 194th birthday by depicting the Foucault pendulum on their daily Google doodle offering.


His early years

Jean Bernard Leon Foucault was born in Paris on 18, September 1819 and his father as a publisher. During the first years of his life, he mostly stayed at home and was home schooled but once he was done with that he moved on to study medicine. However, he developed a blood phobia and ditched medicine in favor of studying physics.

During that time, Louis Daguerre, also a Frenchman, had come out with a photographic process called the “daguerreotype” and it was this photographic process that Foucault paid more attention to. He was looking for a way to improve on the Louis Daguerre photography process and sought to make it better. He also became the experimental assistant of one Alfred Donne who worked with during the course of his lectures concerning the subject of microscopic anatomy.

Leon Foucault also teamed up with a man named Hippolyte Fizeau and together, they carried out several studies on the intensity of the sun’s light as compared to other types of light. During the course of their investigations, they managed to compare to light from carbon coming from an arc lamp plus that of the lime coming from the flame produced by an oxyhydrogen blow pipe. They also carried out studies on the effect of infrared radiation and on rays of light that differed greatly in their path lengths. Studies on chromatic polarization of light were also conducted.

His middle years

In the year 1850, Leon Foucault conducted an experiment with the use of the Fizeau-Foucault apparatus so he could measure the light speed. This study he conducted was then named the Fizeau-Foucault experiment and most people thought it was all that was needed to be the end of Newton’s corpuscular theory of light since Foucault’s study confirmed the idea that light does indeed travel more slowly in water compared to when it travels through air.

A year after that in Paris, he provided en experiment on diurnal motion or how the earth moved on its axis. In 1661, the same set up for the experiment had been conducted by Vincenzo Viviani but it was a process that was attributed more to Foucault. He was able to achieve success by using a heavy and long pendulum attached to the Pantheon’s roof and this was how he was able to demonstrate the rotation of the place of oscillation.

The experiment was a success and amazed both the masses and the academic crowd. It wasn’t too long before “Foucault pendulums” were seen hanging in the biggest cities in Europe and also in America where they attracted huge crowds. A year after that, he made use of (and named!) gyroscopes in simpler experimental processes. By the year 1855, he was given the Copley Medal by the Royal Society in recognition of his remarkable experiments and researches. In the earlier part of that year, he was given the role of physicist in the imperial observatory located in Paris.

September of that year, he made a remarkable discovery and it was the force needed for the rotation of copper discs become so much greater if they are made to turn with their rims placed between magnet poles. He also found that the discs started heating up and it was all because of the eddy current that were forced on the copper.

In the year 1857, he went to work on the polarizer and the year after that, he was able to come up with a way to test the mirror used in telescopes so its shape can be determined. This experiment was given the name Foucault knife-edge test and it allowed workers to determine if a mirror was spherical in deviation or not. Before he come up with the process, testing mirrors and their shapes was more was more guesswork than anything else.

His later years

In the year 1862, he was asked to become a member of the Bureau des Longitudes and also gained membership to the Legion of Honour where he was an officer. Two years after that in the year 1864, he was made a member of the Royal Society of London. A year later, he was admitted as a member of the mechanical section of the Royal Society of London and in the same year, he published papers on his findings and modifications of the governor of James Watts. He had been spending a lot of time on experiments to come up with the correct view that would make come up with a more constant revolution period and he was also hard at work coming up with a novel device that would be used to regulate electric light.

He was able to show people a way to view the sun without injuring the eye and all took was to place a transparent silver film on the outer corner on the object glass use in such telescopes. Towards the end of his life, it was said he went back into the arms of the Roman Catholic Church which he had abandoned during his younger years.

His Death

He died on 11 February 1868 and was buried inside the Montmartre cemetery in Paris. It was said that the cause of his death was probably due to severe multiple sclerosis.

He was such a great man though that his name is one of 72 that are inscribed on the beams that make up the Eiffel tower and he also has an asteroid named after him and it is the 5668 Foucault.