The Life and Science of Leon Foucault: The Man who Proved the Earth Rotates

Overview

Léon Foucault's name is synonymous with his famous pendulum experiment, which proved to all that the Earth rotated. This illustrated biography traces the life and achievements of one of the last great amateur scientists. His contributions to science went well beyond his pendulum—the gyroscope; laboratory measurements of the speed of light; and the invention of methods to make perfect optical surfaces.

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Overview

Léon Foucault's name is synonymous with his famous pendulum experiment, which proved to all that the Earth rotated. This illustrated biography traces the life and achievements of one of the last great amateur scientists. His contributions to science went well beyond his pendulum—the gyroscope; laboratory measurements of the speed of light; and the invention of methods to make perfect optical surfaces.

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780521808552
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 10/30/2003
  • Pages: 351
  • Product dimensions: 7.44 (w) x 9.69 (h) x 0.98 (d)

Meet the Author

William Tobin, M.A., Ph.D., F.R.A.S., was born in Manchester, England, in 1953 and attended Stockport Grammar School. He read Natural Sciences at Cambridge (Emmanuel College) and took his doctorate in astronomy at the University of Wisconsin at Madison (USA). Since then he has worked at the University of St Andrews, the Laboratoire d'Astronomie Spatiale in Marseilles, the Marseilles Observatory (where Foucault's largest telescope is preserved and his interest in Foucault was sparked) and the Université de Provence. Since 1987 he has been at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand, where he has been Director of the Mount John University Observatory and is currently a part-time Senior Lecturer in Astronomy, splitting his time between New Zealand and France. He has spent sabbatical leave at the Institut d'Astrophysique de Paris. Research interests besides Foucault centre on eclipsing binary stars in the Magellanic Clouds and the comet-like objects surrounding the deep southern star Beta Pictoris. His astrophysical research has mostly been published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society and the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics. He is a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society and a member of the International Astronomical Union. Among his distinctions are the New Zealand Institute of Physics Journalism Award (1993), the Arthur Beer Memorial Prize for the best article in the journal Vistas in Astronomy (1994), and the Mechaelis Memorial Prize administered by the University of Otago for contributions to astronomy (1997).

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Table of Contents

Foreword
Preface
Acknowledgments
1 Introduction 1
2 Early years 11
3 The metallic eye: photography 21
4 The 'delicious pastime' applied to science 37
5 The beautiful science of optics 57
6 Order, precision and clarity: reporter for the Journal des Debats 79
7 Mixed luck 95
8 The speed of light: I. Demise of the corpuscular theory 117
9 The rotation of the Earth: pendulum and gyroscope 133
10 Biding time 173
11 The Observatory physicist 183
12 Perfecting the telescope 199
13 The speed of light. II. The size of the solar system 227
14 Recognition 235
15 Control: the quest for fortune 247
16 Unfinished projects 263
17 Commentary 279
Colour plates 285
App. A: Maps and chronology 293
App. B Extracts from the Journal des Debats 296
App. C: Photographs and instruments 305
App. D Building a Foucault pendulum 307
Notes 311
Index 333
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 3, 2004

    Edison, not Einstein

    It is not often that we are treated to a biography of a distinguished scientist written by another scientist, and a literate one at that. Astronomer William Tobin has written an absorbing description of the scientific deeds performed by Léon Foucault in the middle of the nineteenth century. Although most widely known for his pendulum, which demonstrated the rotation of the earth more than 150 years ago to enthralled Parisian audiences, and led to many similar demonstrations over the world, Foucault also developed the gyroscope--- where would our missions to the moon have been without that?---, accurately measured the speed of light, and developed the technique of making reflecting telescopes. These important developments for astronomy perhaps explain the loving care which Tobin has lavished on this volume. In nineteenth century France, theory seems to have been considered as the supreme mark of a true scientist. But Foucault had little theoretical credentials, and was instead what we would now describe as a mechanical and conceptual genius. In more familiar terms, he was more of an Edison than an Einstein. Yet, as documented by Tobin, Foucault was fully aware of the cooperative nature of theory and experiment. A unique aspect of Tobin¿s book is the careful descriptions it provides of the physical principles underlying the many ingenious apparatuses designed by Foucault. Particularly gratifying is Tobin¿s description of how the famous pendulum behaves. Contrary to many museum explanations, at non-polar latitudes the oscillation plane of the pendulum bob is not fixed in space, but rotates on average at a slower rate than the earth. Tobin also discusses the many reports that Foucault made of the proceedings of the Academie Francais. These reports provided some income to Foucault, and Tobin¿s discussions show that Foucault treasured the ability to write clearly and with insight. His contemporaries recognized this important service, but it took many years before he was elected into that elite group.

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