|Born||21 April 1774
|Died||3 February 1862
|Fields||Physics, astronomy and mathematics|
|Known for||Biot–Savart law|
|Influenced||Louis Pasteur, William Ritchie|
Jean-Baptiste Biot (21 April 1774 – 3 February 1862) was a French physicist, astronomer, and mathematician who established the reality of meteorites, made an early balloon flight, and studied the polarization of light.
Jean-Baptiste Biot was born in Paris, France on 21 April 1774 and died in Paris on 3 February 1862. He was educated at Lyceum Louis-le-Grand and École Polytechnique in 1794. Biot served in the artillery before he was appointed professor of mathematics at Beauvais in 1797. He later went on to become a professor of physics at the Collège de France around 1800, and three years later was elected as a member of the Academy of Sciences. In 1804 Biot was on board for the first scientific hot-air balloon ride with Gay-Lussac (NNDB 2009, O’Connor and Robertson 1997). They reached a height of 7016 metres (23,000 feet), quite dangerous without supplementary oxygen. Biot was also a member of the Legion of Honor; he was elected chevalier in 1814 and commander in 1849. In 1816, he was elected a foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. In addition, Biot received the Rumford Medal, awarded by the Royal Society in the field of thermal or optical properties of matter, in 1840 (O’Connor and Robertson 1997).
Jean-Baptiste Biot had a single son, Édouard Constant Biot, an engineer and Sinologist, born in 1803. Edouard died in 1850 and it was only thanks to the extraordinary efforts of his father that the second half of Edouard's last book, the Chinese classic Tcheou-li, was readied for publication. It had been left in manuscript, unfinished. To publish it in correct form, Jean-Baptiste Biot wrote, he had to consult Stanislas Julien, the famous Sinologist, but also, especially for the translation of the most difficult part, the Kaogongji, he himself had to visit many workshops and questioned artisans and craftsmen about their methods and vocabulary in order to verify his son's work. To this day, Biot's translation remains the only translation into a Western language of this book.
Jean-Baptiste Biot made many contributions to the scientific community in his lifetime – most notably in optics, magnetism, and astronomy. The Biot–Savart law in magnetism is named after Biot and his colleague Félix Savart for their work in 1820. In their experiment they showed a connection between electricity and magnetism by "starting with a long vertical wire and a magnetic needle some horizontal distance apart [and showing] that running a current through the wire caused the needle to move" (Parsley).
In 1803 Biot was sent by the Académie française to report back on 3000 meteorites that fell on L’aigle, France. He found that the meteorites, called "stones" at the time, were from outer space. With his report, Biot helped support Ernst Florens Friedrich Chladni's argument that meteorites were debris from space, which he had published in 1794. Biot also helped further the field of optics in 1815 with a study in polarized light. In his experiment Biot studied the effects of polarized light as it penetrated organic substances and determined that light "could be rotated clockwise or counterclockwise, dependent upon the optical axis of the material" (Molecular).
Prior to Biot's thorough investigation of the meteorites that fell near l'Aigle, France in 1803, very few truly believed that rocks found on Earth could have extraterrestrial origins. There were anecdotal tales of unusual rocks found on the ground after fireballs had been seen in the sky, but such stories were often dismissed as fantasy. Serious debate concerning the unusual rocks began in 1794 when German physicist Chladni published a book claiming that rocks had an extraterrestrial origin (Westrum). Only after Biot was able to analyze the rocks at l'Aigle was it commonly accepted that the fireballs seen in the sky were meteors falling through the atmosphere. Since Biot's time, analysis of meteorites has resulted in accurate measurements of the chemical composition of the solar system. The composition and position of meteors in the solar system have also given astronomers clues as to how the solar system formed.
In 1812, Biot turned his attention to the study of optics, particularly the polarization of light. Prior to the 19th century, light was believed to consist of discrete packets called corpuscles. During the early 19th century, many scientists began to disregard the corpuscular theory in favor of the wave theory of light. Biot began his work on polarization to show that the results he was obtaining could appear only if light were made of corpuscles. His work in chromatic polarization and rotary polarization greatly advanced the field of optics, although it was later shown that his findings could also be obtained using the wave theory of light (Frankel). Biot's work on the polarization of light has led to many breakthroughs in the field of optics. Liquid crystal displays (LCDs), such as television and computer screens, use light that is polarized by a filter as it enters the liquid crystal, to allow the liquid crystal to modulate the intensity of the transmitted light. This happens as the liquid crystal's polarisation varies in response to an electric control signal applied across it. Polarizing filters are used extensively in photography to cut out unwanted reflections or to enhance reflection.
- Traité élémentaire d'astronomie physique (Klostermann, 1810–1811)
- Traité de physique expérimentale et mathématique( Deterville, 1816)
- Précis de l'histoire de l'astronomie chinoise (impr. impériale, 1861)
- Études sur l'astronomie indienne et sur l'astronomie chinoise (Lévy frères, 1862)
- Mélanges scientifiques et littéraires (Lévy frères, 1858)
- Recherches sur plusieurs points de l'astronomie égyptienne (Didot, 1823)
- Appletons' annual cyclopaedia and register of important events of the year: 1862. New York: D. Appleton & Company. 1863. p. 683.
- Frankel, Eugene. "Corpuscular Optics and the Wave Theory of Light: The Science and Politics of Revolution in Physics." Social Studies of Science vol. 6, no 2. May 1976. Sage Publications, Ltd. 15 June 2009 <http://www.jstor.org/stable/284930>.
- Westrum, Ron. "Science and Social Intelligence about Anomalies: The Case of Meteorites." Social Studies of Science vol. 8, no.4 Nov. 1978. Sage Publications, Ltd. 15 June 2009 <http://www.jstor.org/stable/284819>.
- Parsley, Robert J. "THE BIOT-SAVART OPERATOR AND ELECTRODYNAMICS ON BOUNDED SUBDOMAINS OF THE THREE-SPHERE". University of Pennsylvania. <www.wfu.edu/~parslerj/research/dissertation.parsley.pdf>
- Crosland, M.P. (1970–80). "Biot, Jean-Baptiste". Dictionary of Scientific Biography 2. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. pp. 133–140. ISBN 0684101149.
- Gounelle, Matthieu (2006). "The meteorite fall at L 'Aigle and the Biot report: exploring the cradle of meteoritics". In Gerald Joseph Home McCall, A. J. Bowden, Richard John Howarth. The History of Meteoritics and Key Meteorite Collections. Geological Society of London. pp. 73–89. ISBN 978-1-86239-194-9.
- Levitt, Theresa (Sep 2003). "Biot's paper and Arago's plates. Photographic practice and the transparency of representation". Isis 94 (3): 456–476. PMID 14626764.
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- Catholic Encyclopedia article
- Encyclopædia Britannica article
- Short Biography Pasteur Brewing.
- O'Connor, John J.; Robertson, Edmund F., "Jean-Baptiste Biot", MacTutor History of Mathematics archive, University of St Andrews.
- J.B. Biot's report on the L'Aigle meteorite