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L?on 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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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.
|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|
|8||The speed of light: I. Demise of the corpuscular theory||117|
|9||The rotation of the Earth: pendulum and gyroscope||133|
|11||The Observatory physicist||183|
|12||Perfecting the telescope||199|
|13||The speed of light. II. The size of the solar system||227|
|15||Control: the quest for fortune||247|
|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|
Posted June 3, 2004
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.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.