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Jules Antoine Lissajous (1822--1880) --- Historical Sketch

Jules Antoine Lissajous was a French mathematician and physicist. He was interested in waves and developed an optical method for studying vibrations. At first he studied waves produced by a tuning fork in contact with water. In 1855 he described a way of studying acoustic vibrations by reflecting a light beam from a mirror attached to a vibrating object onto a screen. He obtained figures, now referred to as Lissajous curves, by successively reflecting light from mirrors on two tuning forks vibrating at right angles. The curves are only seen because of persistence of vision in the human eye. Lissajous studied beats seen when his tuning forks had slightly different frequencies, in this case a rotating ellipse is seen. Lissajous curves have applications in physics, astronomy, and other sciences. Lissajous was awarded the Lacaze Prize in 1873 for his work on the optical observation of vibration.

Lissajous curves or Lissajous figures are sometimes called Bowditch curves after Nathaniel Bowditch who considered them in 1815. They were studied in more detail (independently) by Lissajous in 1857.


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Copyright © 2006 Darel Hardy, Fred Richman, Carol Walker, Robert Wisner. All rights reserved. Except upon the express prior permission in writing, from the authors, no part of this work may be reproduced, transcribed, stored electronically, or transmitted in any form by any method.

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