Jean-Baptiste Biot

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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 April 21, 1774 and died in Paris on February 3, 1862. He had one son, Edouard Constant Biot, in 1803. 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). 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 [link], awarded by the Royal Society in the field of thermal or optic properties of matter, in 1840 (O’Connor and Robertson 1997).

Biot's Paradigm

Jean-Baptiste Biot made many contributions to the scientific community in his lifetime, changing the paradigm of physics, as Thomas Kuhn would say. These include optics, magnetism, and astronomy. The Biot-Savart Law in magnetism is named after Biot and his colleague Felix 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 French Academy to report back on 3000 meteorites that fell on L’aigle, France. He found that the meteorites, or 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).

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