Joseph Antoine Ferdinand Plateau, born 14 October 1801, was a Belgian physicist. He was the first person to demonstrate the illusion of a moving image. To do this he used counter-rotating disks with repeating drawn images in small increments of motion on one and regularly spaced slits in the other. He called this device of 1832 the phenakistoscope.
His father, born in Tournai, was a talented flower painter, at the age of six the young Joseph Plateau was already able to read, and this made him a child prodigy in those times. While attending the primary schools, he was particularly impressed by a lesson of physics: enchanted by the seen experiments, he promised himself to penetrate their secrets sooner or later.
He used to spend his school holidays in Marche-Les-Dames, with his uncle and his family: his cousin and playfellow was Auguste Payen, who later became an architect and the principal designer of the Belgian railways. At the age of fourteen, he lost his father and mother: the trauma caused by this loss made him fall ill. In 1827 he became a teacher of mathematics at the "Atheneum" school in Brussels.
In 1832, Plateau invented an early stroboscopic device, the Phenakistoscope, the first device to give the illusion of a moving image. It consisted of two disks, one with small equidistant radial windows, through which the viewer could look, and another containing a sequence of images. When the two disks rotated at the correct speed, the synchronization of the windows and the images created an animated effect. The projection of stroboscopic photographs, creating the illusion of motion, eventually led to the development of cinema.
On 27 August 1840, he married Augustine Clavareau: they had a son a year later, in 1841. His daughter Alice Plateau married Gustaaf Van der Mensbrugghe in 1871, who became his collaborator and later his first biographer.
Fascinated by the persistence of luminous impressions on the retina, he performed an experiment in which he gazed directly into the sun for 25 seconds. He lost his eyesight later in his life and attributed the loss to this experiment. However, this may not be the case, and he may have instead suffered from chronic uveitis. He died in Ghent on September 15, 1883.