Gabriel Lippmann

Jonas Ferdinand Gabriel Lippmann[2] (16 August 1845 – 13 July 1921) was a Franco-Luxembourgish physicist and inventor, and Nobel laureate in physics for his method of reproducing colours photographically based on the phenomenon of interference. [3]

Gabriel Lippmann
Gabriel Lippmann2
Jonas Ferdinand Gabriel Lippmann

16 August 1845
Bonnevoie/Bouneweg, Luxembourg (since 1921 part of Luxembourg City)
Died13 July 1921 (aged 75)
SS France, Atlantic Ocean
Alma materÉcole Normale Supérieure
Known forLippmann colour photography
Integral 3-D photography
Lippmann electrometer
AwardsNobel Prize for Physics (1908)
Scientific career
Doctoral advisorGustav Kirchhoff
Other academic advisorsHermann von Helmholtz[1]

Early life and education

Gabriel Lippmann was born in Bonnevoie, Luxembourg (Luxembourgish: Bouneweg), on 16 August 1845. At the time, Bonnevoie was part of the commune of Hollerich (Luxembourgish: Hollerech) which is often given as his place of birth. (Both places, Bonnevoie and Hollerich, are now districts of Luxembourg City.) His father, Isaïe, a French Jew born in Ennery near Metz, managed the family glove-making business at the former convent in Bonnevoie. In 1848, the family moved to Paris where Lippmann was initially tutored by his mother, Miriam Rose (Lévy), before attending the Lycée Napoléon (now Lycée Henri-IV).[4] He was said to have been a rather inattentive but thoughtful pupil with a special interest in mathematics. In 1868, he was admitted to the École normale supérieure in Paris where he failed the agrégation examination which would have enabled him to enter the teaching profession, preferring instead to study physics. In 1872, the French government sent him on a mission to Heidelberg University where he was able to specialize in electricity with the encouragement of Gustav Kirchhoff, receiving a doctorate with "summa cum laude" distinction in 1874.[5] Lippmann then returned to Paris in 1875, where he continued to study until 1878, when he became professor of physics at the Sorbonne.[6][7][8]


Lippmann made several important contributions to various branches of physics over the years.

Lippmann's electrometer (1872)

The capillary electrometer

One of Lippmann's early discoveries was the relationship between electrical and capillary phenomena which allowed him to develop a sensitive capillary electrometer, subsequently known as the Lippmann electrometer which was used in the first ECG machine. In a paper delivered to the Philosophical Society of Glasgow on 17 January 1883, John G. M'Kendrick described the apparatus as follows:

Lippmann's electrometer consists of a tube of ordinary glass, 1 metre long and 7 millimetres in diameter, open at both ends, and kept in the vertical position by a stout support. The lower end is drawn into a capillary point, until the diameter of the capillary is .005 of a millimetre. The tube is filled with mercury, and the capillary point is immersed in dilute sulphuric acid (1 to 6 of water in volume), and in the bottom of the vessel containing the acid there is a little more mercury. A platinum wire is put into connection with the mercury in each tube, and, finally, arrangements are made by which the capillary point can be seen with a microscope magnifying 250 diameters. Such an instrument is very sensitive; and Lippmann states that it is possible to determine a difference of potential so small as that of one 10,080th of a Daniell. It is thus a very delicate means of observing and (as it can be graduated by a compensation-method) of measuring minute electromotive forces.[9][10]

Lippmann's PhD thesis, presented to the Sorbonne on 24 July 1875, was on electrocapillarity.[11]


In 1881, Lippmann predicted the converse piezoelectric effect.[12]

Colour photography

Lippmann photo flowers
A colour photograph made by Lippmann in the 1890s. It contains no pigments or dyes of any kind.

Above all, Lippmann is remembered as the inventor of a method for reproducing colours by photography, based on the interference phenomenon, which earned him the Nobel Prize in Physics for 1908.[7]

In 1886, Lippmann's interest turned to a method of fixing the colours of the solar spectrum on a photographic plate. On 2 February 1891, he announced to the Academy of Sciences: "I have succeeded in obtaining the image of the spectrum with its colours on a photographic plate whereby the image remains fixed and can remain in daylight without deterioration." By April 1892, he was able to report that he had succeeded in producing colour images of a stained glass window, a group of flags, a bowl of oranges topped by a red poppy and a multicoloured parrot. He presented his theory of colour photography using the interference method in two papers to the Academy, one in 1894, the other in 1906.[5]

Standing wave
A standing wave. The red dots are the wave nodes

The interference phenomenon in optics occurs as a result of the wave propagation of light. When light of a given wavelength is reflected back upon itself by a mirror, standing waves are generated, much as the ripples resulting from a stone dropped into still water create standing waves when reflected back by a surface such as the wall of a pool. In the case of ordinary incoherent light, the standing waves are distinct only within a microscopically thin volume of space next to the reflecting surface.

Lippmann made use of this phenomenon by projecting an image onto a special photographic plate capable of recording detail smaller than the wavelengths of visible light. The light passed through the supporting glass sheet into a very thin and nearly transparent photographic emulsion containing submicroscopically small silver halide grains. A temporary mirror of liquid mercury in intimate contact reflected the light back through the emulsion, creating standing waves whose nodes had little effect while their antinodes created a latent image. After development, the result was a structure of laminae, distinct parallel layers composed of submicroscopic metallic silver grains, which was a permanent record of the standing waves. In each part of the image, the spacing of the laminae corresponded to the half-wavelengths of the light photographed.

The finished plate was illuminated from the front at a nearly perpendicular angle, using daylight or another source of white light containing the full range of wavelengths in the visible spectrum. At each point on the plate, light of approximately the same wavelength as the light which had generated the laminae was strongly reflected back toward the viewer. Light of other wavelengths which was not absorbed or scattered by the silver grains simply passed through the emulsion, usually to be absorbed by a black anti-reflection coating applied to the back of the plate after it had been developed. The wavelengths, and therefore the colours, of the light which had formed the original image were thus reconstituted and a full-colour image was seen.[13][14][15]

In practice, the Lippmann process was not easy to use. Extremely fine-grained high-resolution photographic emulsions are inherently much less light-sensitive than ordinary emulsions, so long exposure times were required. With a lens of large aperture and a very brightly sunlit subject, a camera exposure of less than one minute was sometimes possible, but exposures measured in minutes were typical. Pure spectral colours reproduced brilliantly, but the ill-defined broad bands of wavelengths reflected by real-world objects could be problematic. The process did not produce colour prints on paper and it proved impossible to make a good duplicate of a Lippmann colour photograph by rephotographing it, so each image was unique. A very shallow-angled prism was usually cemented to the front of the finished plate to deflect unwanted surface reflections, and this made plates of any substantial size impractical. The lighting and viewing arrangement required to see the colours to best effect precluded casual use. Although the special plates and a plate holder with a built-in mercury reservoir were commercially available for a few years circa 1900, even expert users found consistent good results elusive and the process never graduated from being a scientifically elegant laboratory curiosity. It did, however, stimulate interest in the further development of colour photography.[15]

Lippmann's process foreshadowed laser holography, which is also based on recording standing waves in a photographic medium. Denisyuk reflection holograms, often referred to as Lippmann-Bragg holograms, have similar laminar structures that preferentially reflect certain wavelengths. In the case of actual multiple-wavelength colour holograms of this type, the colour information is recorded and reproduced just as in the Lippmann process, except that the highly coherent laser light passing through the recording medium and reflected back from the subject generates the required distinct standing waves throughout a relatively large volume of space, eliminating the need for reflection to occur immediately adjacent to the recording medium. Unlike Lippmann colour photography, however, the lasers, the subject and the recording medium must all be kept stable to within one quarter of a wavelength during the exposure in order for the standing waves to be recorded adequately or at all.

Integral photography

In 1908, Lippmann introduced integral photography, in which a plane array of closely spaced small lenses is used to photograph a scene, recording images of the scene as it appears from many slightly different horizontal and vertical locations. When the resulting images are rectified and viewed through a similar array of lenses, a single integrated image, composed of small portions of all the images, is seen by each eye. The position of the eye determines which parts of the small images it sees. The effect is that the visual geometry of the original scene is reconstructed, so that the limits of the array seem to be the edges of a window through which the scene appears life-size and in three dimensions, realistically exhibiting parallax and perspective shift with any change in the position of the observer.[16] This principle of using numerous lenses or imaging apertures to record what was later termed a light field underlies the evolving technology of light-field cameras and microscopes.

Measurement of time

In 1895, Lippmann evolved a method of eliminating the personal equation in measurements of time, using photographic registration, and he studied the eradication of irregularities of pendulum clocks, devising a method of comparing the times of oscillation of two pendulums of nearly equal period.[4]

The coelostat

Lippmann also invented the coelostat, an astronomical tool that compensated for the Earth's rotation and allowed a region of the sky to be photographed without apparent movement.[4]

Academic affiliations

Lippmann was a member of the Academy of Sciences from 8 February 1886 until his death, serving as its President in 1912.[17] In addition, he was a Foreign Member of the Royal Society of London, a member of the Bureau des Longitudes,[4] and a member of the Grand Ducal Institute of Luxembourg. He became a member of the Société française de photographie in 1892 and its president from 1896 to 1899.[18] Lippmann was one of the founders of the Institut d'optique théorique et appliquée in France. Lippmann was the President of the Société Astronomique de France (SAF), the French astronomical society, from 1903-1904.[19]


ln Luxembourg City an Institute for fundamental scientific research was named after Lippmann (Centre de Recherche Public Gabriel Lippmann) which merged on 1 January 2015 with another major research centre to form the new Luxembourg Institute for Science and Technology (LIST).[20]

Personal life

Lippmann married the daughter of the novelist Victor Cherbuliez in 1888.[4] He died on 13 July 1921 aboard the steamer France while en route from Canada.[21]

See also


  1. ^ "Gabriel Lippmann". Mathematics Genealogy Project. Retrieved 31 August 2015.
  2. ^ Birth certificate, cf. R. Grégorius (1984): Gabriel Lippmann. Notice biographique. In: Inauguration d'une plaque à la mémoire de Gabriel Lippmann par le Centre culturel et d'éducation populaire de Bonnevoie et la Section des sciences de l'Institut grand-ducal. Bonnevoie, le 13 avril 1984: 8-20.
  3. ^
  4. ^ a b c d e "Gabriel Lippmann". Nobel Foundation. Archived from the original on 5 April 2016. Retrieved 4 December 2010.
  5. ^ a b Jacques Bintz, "Gabriel Lippmann 1845–1921", in Gabriel Lippmann: Commémoration par la section des sciences naturelles, physiques et mathématiques de l’Institut grand-ducal de Luxembourg du 150e anniversaire du savant né au Luxembourg, lauréat du prix Nobel en 1908 (Luxembourg: Section des sciences naturelles, physiques et mathématiques de l’Institut grand-ducal de Luxembourg en collaboration avec le Séminaire de mathématique et le Séminaire d’histoire des sciences et de la médecine du centre universitaire de Luxembourg, 1997), Jean-Paul Pier & Jos. A. Massard: éditeurs, Luxembourg 1997. Retrieved 4 December 2010.
  6. ^ Josef Maria Eder, History of Photography, 4th ed. (New York: Dover, 1978; ISBN 0-486-23586-6), p. 668. (This Dover edition reproduces the Columbia University Press edition of 1945; the book was originally published in 1932 as Geschichte der Photographie.)
  7. ^ a b From Nobel Lectures, Physics 1901-1921, Elsevier Publishing Company, Amsterdam, 1967
  8. ^ See also the extensive biography on The Nobel Prize in Physics 1908 page.
  9. ^ John G. M'Kendrick, "Note on a Simple Form of Lippmann's Capillary Electrometer useful to Physiologists".
  10. ^ See also a similar description in German at "Kapillārelektromēter", Meyers Konversationslexikon, Verlag des Bibliographischen Instituts, Leipzig und Wien, 1885-1892. Retrieved 5 December 2010.
  11. ^ "About Gabriel Lippmann". Centre de Recherche Public - Gabriel Lippmann. Archived from the original on 22 July 2011. Retrieved 28 September 2017.
  12. ^ Lippmann, G. (1881). "Principe de la conservation de l'électricité". Annales de chimie et de physique (in French). 24: 145.
  13. ^ Bolas, T. et al: A Handbook of Photography in Colours, Marion & Co. (London, 1900):45-59 (Retrieved from on 11 February 2010)
  14. ^ Wall, E. J.: Practical Color Photography, American Photographic Publishing Co. (Boston, 1922):185-199 (Retrieved from on 5 September 2010)
  15. ^ a b Klaus Biedermann, "Lippmann's and Gabor's Revolutionary Approach to Imaging", Retrieved 6 December 2010.
  16. ^ Lippmann, G. (2 March 1908). "Épreuves réversibles. Photographies intégrales". Comptes Rendus de l'Académie des Sciences. 146 (9): 446–451. Reprinted in Benton "Selected Papers on Three-Dimensional Displays".
  17. ^ "Les Membres de l'Académie des sciences depuis sa création (en 1666)" (in French). Académie des sciences. Archived from the original on 2 March 2008. Retrieved 2008-03-01.
  18. ^ Daniel Girardin, "La photographie interférentielle de Lippmann, méthode parfaite et oubliée de reproduction des couleurs", published in DU, die Zeitschrift der Kultur, no 708 : Fotografie, der lange Weg zur Farbe, Juillet-août 2000. Musée de l'Élysée. (in French) Retrieved 6 December 2010.
  19. ^ Bulletin de la Société astronomique de France, 1911, vol. 25, pp. 581-586
  20. ^ Annuaire du Luxembourg 2015, publ. Editus, p264
  21. ^ "Gabriel Lippmann, Scientist, Dies at Sea", The New York Times, 14 July 1921.

Further reading

External links

1908 in science

The year 1908 in science and technology involved some significant events, listed below.


Bonnevoie (Luxembourgish: Bouneweg, German: Bonneweg) is an area of south-eastern Luxembourg City, in southern Luxembourg. It is divided between the quarters of North Bonnevoie-Verlorenkost and South Bonnevoie. It is the biggest neighbourhood in the city, with more than 15,000 inhabitants.

Famous people born in, or residents of Bonnevoie include:

John E. Dolibois, United States ambassador to Luxembourg

Hugo Gernsback, editor and science fiction author

François Hentges, gymnast

Gabriel Lippmann, French physicist and Nobel Prize laureate (1908)

Corinne Cahen, Luxembourg Minister of Family and Integration and the Greater Region in the Bettel–Schneider ministry

CRP Henri Tudor

The Public Research Centre Henri Tudor (or CRP Henri Tudor) is a Luxembourg-based research institute. Created in late 1987, in the framework of the Luxembourgish law of 9 March 1987 about public research, the CRP Henri Tudor took its name from Henri Owen Tudor, a famous Luxembourgish engineer.

CRP Henri Tudor's main mission was to contribute to the improvement and the strengthening of the innovation capacities of enterprises and public organizations. On 1 January 2015, the Public Research Centre Henri Tudor and the Public Research Center Gabriel Lippmann merged to form a new Research and Technology Organization (RTO), the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology.

Color photography

Color (or colour) photography is photography that uses media capable of reproducing colors. By contrast, black-and-white (monochrome) photography records only a single channel of luminance (brightness) and uses media capable only of showing shades of gray.

In color photography, electronic sensors or light-sensitive chemicals record color information at the time of exposure. This is usually done by analyzing the spectrum of colors into three channels of information, one dominated by red, another by green and the third by blue, in imitation of the way the normal human eye senses color. The recorded information is then used to reproduce the original colors by mixing various proportions of red, green and blue light (RGB color, used by video displays, digital projectors and some historical photographic processes), or by using dyes or pigments to remove various proportions of the red, green and blue which are present in white light (CMY color, used for prints on paper and transparencies on film).

Monochrome images which have been "colorized" by tinting selected areas by hand or mechanically or with the aid of a computer are "colored photographs", not "color photographs". Their colors are not dependent on the actual colors of the objects photographed and may be inaccurate.

The foundation of virtually all practical color processes, the three-color method was first suggested in an 1855 paper by Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell, with the first color photograph produced by Thomas Sutton for a Maxwell lecture in 1861. Color photography has been the dominant form of photography since the 1970s, with monochrome photography mostly relegated to niche markets such as art photography.


Electrowetting is the modification of the wetting properties of a surface (which is typically hydrophobic) with an applied electric field.


A heliochrome is a color photograph, particularly one made by the early experimental processes of the middle 19th to early 20th centuries. The word was coined from the Greek roots "helios", the sun, and "chroma", color, to mean "colored by the sun". It was applied to images as technologically diverse as Levi Hill's "Hillotypes" of the 1850s (Hill's instruction book was entitled A Treatise on Heliochromy), the three-color carbon prints made by Louis Ducos du Hauron in the 1870s, and the interference color photographs made by Gabriel Lippmann in the 1890s. It was also occasionally misapplied to images whose color was non-photographic, i.e., due to local coloring by handwork of some kind.

Integral imaging

Integral imaging is an autostereoscopic and multiscopic three-dimensional imaging technique that captures and reproduces a light field by using a two-dimensional array of microlenses, sometimes called a fly's-eye lens, normally without the aid of a larger overall objective or viewing lens. In capture mode, each microlens allows an image of the subject as seen from the viewpoint of that lens's location to be acquired. In reproduction mode, each microlens allows each observing eye to see only the area of the associated micro-image containing the portion of the subject that would have been visible through that space from that eye's location. The optical geometry can perhaps be visualized more easily by substituting pinholes for the microlenses, as has actually been done for some demonstrations and special applications.

The result is a visual reproduction complete with all significant depth cues, including parallax in all directions, perspective that changes with the position and distance of the observer, and, if the lenses are small enough and the images of sufficient quality, the cue of accommodation — the adjustments of eye focus required to clearly see objects at different distances. Unlike the voxels in a true volumetric display, the image points perceived through the microlens array are virtual and have only a subjective location in space, allowing a scene of infinite depth to be displayed without resorting to an auxiliary large magnifying lens or mirror.

Integral imaging was partly inspired by barrier grid autostereograms and in turn partly inspired lenticular printing.


Lippmann is a German surname, and may refer to:

Alexandre Lippmann (1881–1960), French Olympic champion fencer

Bernard Lippmann, American physicist, known for the Lippmann-Schwinger equation

Edmund Oscar von Lippmann (1857–1940), German chemist

Frank Lippmann (born 1961), German footballer

Horst Lippmann (1927–1997), German jazz musician

Gabriel Lippmann (1845–1921), physicist, inventor, and Nobel laureate in physics

Karl Friedrich Lippmann (1883–1957), German painter

Léontine Lippmann (1844–1910), French salon hostess

Walter Lippmann (1889–1974), American journalist

Walter Max Lippmann (1919–1993), German-born Jewish community leader and advocate of multiculturalism in AustraliaOther uses of Lippmann include:

Colloque Walter Lippmann — conference of intellectuals organized by French philosopher Louis Rougier in August 1938

Lippmann (crater)

Lippmann plate

Lippmann electrometer

Lippmann Islands

The Lippmann Islands are a group of small islands 4 kilometres (2 nmi) in extent, lying close northwest of Lahille Island off the west coast of Graham Land, Antarctica. They were originally mapped as a single island by the French Antarctic Expedition, 1903–05, under Jean-Baptiste Charcot, and named by him for French physicist and Nobel Prize winner Gabriel Lippmann.

Lippmann electrometer

A Lippmann electrometer is a device for detecting small rushes of electric current and was invented by Gabriel Lippmann in 1873.

The device consists of a tube which is thick on one end and very thin on the other. The thin end is designed to act as a capillary tube. The tube is half-filled with mercury with a small amount of dilute sulfuric acid above the mercury in the capillary tube. Metal wires are connected at the thick end into the mercury and at the thin end into the sulfuric acid.

When the pulse of electricity arrives it changes the surface tension of the mercury and allows it to leap up a short distance in the capillary tube. This device was used in the first practical ECG machine which was invented by Augustus Desiré Waller.

Lippmann plate

Gabriel Lippmann conceived a two-step method to record and reproduce colours, variously known as direct photochromes, interference photochromes, Lippmann photochromes, Photography in natural colours by direct exposure in the camera or the Lippmann process of colour photography. Lippmann won the Nobel Prize in Physics for this work in 1908.

A Lippmann plate is a clear glass plate (having no Anti-halation backing), coated with an almost transparent (very low silver halide content) emulsion of extremely fine grains, typically 0.01 to 0.04 micrometres in diameter.

Consequently, Lippmann plates have an extremely high resolving power exceeding 400 lines/mm.

List of Luxembourgers

This is a list of people from Luxembourg

Marie Curie

Marie Skłodowska Curie (; French: [kyʁi]; Polish: [kʲiˈri]; born Maria Salomea Skłodowska; 7 November 1867 – 4 July 1934) was a Polish and naturalized-French physicist and chemist who conducted pioneering research on radioactivity. She was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, the first person and only woman to win twice, and the only person to win a Nobel Prize in two different sciences. She was part of the Curie family legacy of five Nobel Prizes. She was also the first woman to become a professor at the University of Paris, and in 1995 became the first woman to be entombed on her own merits in the Panthéon in Paris.

She was born in Warsaw, in what was then the Kingdom of Poland, part of the Russian Empire. She studied at Warsaw's clandestine Flying University and began her practical scientific training in Warsaw. In 1891, aged 24, she followed her older sister Bronisława to study in Paris, where she earned her higher degrees and conducted her subsequent scientific work. She shared the 1903 Nobel Prize in Physics with her husband Pierre Curie and physicist Henri Becquerel. She won the 1911 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

Her achievements included the development of the theory of radioactivity (a term that she coined), techniques for isolating radioactive isotopes, and the discovery of two elements, polonium and radium. Under her direction, the world's first studies into the treatment of neoplasms were conducted using radioactive isotopes. She founded the Curie Institutes in Paris and in Warsaw, which remain major centres of medical research today. During World War I she developed mobile radiography units to provide X-ray services to field hospitals.

While a French citizen, Marie Skłodowska Curie, who used both surnames, never lost her sense of Polish identity. She taught her daughters the Polish language and took them on visits to Poland. She named the first chemical element she discovered polonium, after her native country.Marie Curie died in 1934, aged 66, at a sanatorium in Sancellemoz (Haute-Savoie), France, of aplastic anemia from exposure to radiation in the course of her scientific research and in the course of her radiological work at field hospitals during World War I.

Maurice Couette

Maurice Marie Alfred Couette (9 January 1858, Tours – 18 August 1943, Angers) was a French physicist known for his studies of fluidity.

Couette is best known for his contributions to rheology and the theory of fluid flow. He designed a concentric cylinder viscometer that he used to accurately measure the viscosity of fluids. The laminar flow observed in the gap between the two cylinders is known as Couette flow. He studied the boundary conditions of a fluid and showed that the "no slip" condition was satisfied for the fluids and wall materials tested.

Musée de l'Élysée

Musée de l'Élysée is a museum in Lausanne, Switzerland, entirely devoted to photography. It is a government-supported institution founded in 1985 by Charles-Henri Favrod in an 18th-century mansion.

Otto Wiener (physicist)

Otto Heinrich Wiener (15 June 1862 – 18 January 1927) was a German physicist.

Photography in Luxembourg

Photography in Luxembourg is often associated with two figures who were born in Luxembourg but left when very young: Edward Steichen (1879–1973) was an American who made outstanding contributions to fashion and military photography during the first half of the 20th century; while Gabriel Lippmann (1845–1921), a Frenchman, was awarded the Nobel prize in physics for his achievements in colour photography. There are however many Luxembourg nationals who are remembered for recording the development of the city of Luxembourg and the country as a whole from the 1850s to the present.

Radioactive (film)

Radioactive is an upcoming biographical film directed by Marjane Satrapi and starring Rosamund Pike as Marie Curie. It is based on the graphic novel by Lauren Redniss.

Stationary-wave integrated Fourier transform spectrometry

Stationary-wave integrated Fourier transform spectrometry (SWIFTS) is an analytical technique used for measuring the distribution of light across an optical spectrum. SWIFTS technology is based on a near-field Lippmann architecture. An optical signal is injected into a waveguide and ended by a mirror (true Lippman configuration). The input signal interferes with the reflected signal, creating a stationary wave.

In a counter-propagative architecture, the two optical signals are injected at the opposite ends of the waveguide. The evanescent waves propagating within the waveguide are then sampled by optical probes. This results in an interferogram. A mathematical function known as a Lippmann transform, similar to a Fourier transform, is later used to give the spectrum of the light.

19th-century French photographers

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