Gabriel Jonas Lippmann Biography (1845-1921)


Lippmann was born in Luxembourg, but his French parents settled in Paris whenhe was a young boy. In 1875, he received a Ph.D. in physics from the Sorbonne, but not before inventing a sensitive voltmeter called the capillary electrometer. In 1886, Lippmann, a physics professor at the Sorbonne, lectured on ameans to use optical " interference"--the same phenomenon that causes the color seen in soap bubbles, mother-of-pearl, and oil on a wet road--to induce the appearance of color on a photographic plate. Lippmann's photographic method used a thick emulsion over a thin photographic plate coated with fine-grainsilver bromide. The plate was placed in a camera with the emulsion side awayfrom the lens in contact with mercury. When the incoming light struck the light reflected from the mercury, stationary light patterns were produced thatleft their impression in the emulsion. This impression reproduced the naturalcolors of the object photographed. In 1893, Lippmann produced a photograph that rendered all colors, approximating their natural brilliance. As early as1839 others, such as J. F. W. Herschel, Edmond Becquerel and Abel NiƩpce De Saint-Victor, had produced color images using various methods. But nonewere able to keep their images from rapidly fading away. Lippmann's image was permanent. Lippmann's color photographic method had too many drawbacks to achieve commercial success. A two- to three-hour exposure was required, the photographs were difficult to see (they had the appearance of a dense negative), and no copies of them could be made. Nevertheless, color photography had atlast been achieved and Lippmann received the 1908 Nobel Prize for Physics for the invention. In addition to his work in color photography, Lippmann alsofabricated numerous instruments, including the capillary- electrometer and the coelostat, before his death at sea on July 13, 1921.

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