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September 30, 1870: Jean Perrin, the father of electronics

What happened this week in the History of Industry? It is to answer this question that Global Industrie invites you to rediscover, every week, an historical event which occurred around this time… in another age. We propose to take you back 150 years to the beautiful city of Lille, which saw the birth of a scientific genius whose research is still revolutionizing the world today…


When Jean Perrin took his first breath on the 30th of September 1870 in the Capital of French Flanders, where his father, an infantry captain, was stationed at the time, nobody suspected the extraordinary destiny awaiting this beautiful baby. He seemed to have been blessed by the gods, and in 1891, when he joined the prestigious Ecole Normale Supérieure in Rue d'Ulm in Paris, his fellow students, impressed by his remarkably attractive physique, nicknamed him "the Apollo". 


The young man was more interested in physics than physique, however. A tireless worker, he developed a passionate interest in scientific research. He thus undertook to solve the enigma of the nature of cathode rays and X-rays. Are they light or matter? Thus it was that in 1895, barely 25 years old, he succeeded in proving that they consist of negatively charged electrical particles. The discovery of electrons then gave birth to a new science which was to revolutionize both industry and our everyday lives: electronics.

He continued his quest and achieved a new feat in 1913 when he succeeded in calculating Avogadro’s number. The Italian physicist Avogadro had, a century earlier, formulated the following premise: two masses of gas which, at the same temperature and under the same pressure, occupy equal volumes, contain the same number of molecules. Nobody however had succeeded in determining this number… until Perrin. He thus provided decisive proof of the existence of atoms which he sets out in a summary work entitled … "Atoms", which reviewed existing scientific knowledge in physics and had a tremendous international impact. He was eventually awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1926. 


However, the life of this outstanding scientist, a friend of Pierre and Marie Curie, was not limited to pure scientific research and teaching. Thus, during World War I, this former staunch Dreyfus supporter designed various stereo-acoustic devices which could be used to locate enemy artillery batteries and submarines.

An astronomy enthusiast, he devoted a lot of energy to the development, organization and promotion, both cultural and industrial, of scientific research. Léon Blum, the man who introduced paid leave in France, thus appointed him as Under Secretary of State for Scientific Research in the famous Popular Front government in 1936. He went on to found the Palais de la Découverte the following year. En 1939, it was also to him that we owe the creation of the CNRS, the National Center for Scientific Research. And it was under his impetus that the Observatory of Haute-Provence, the Paris Astrophysics Institute and the Institute of Physico-Chemical Biology came into being.

Following France’s defeat in 1940, this staunch pacifist, ardent patriot and Grand Officer of the Legion of Honor, refused to collaborate with the Nazi occupier and went into exile in the United States. He died in New York, in his son’s arms, on the 17th of April 1942. He was nevertheless to receive a final posthumous recognition from his country once the war was over: after being brought back on the cruiser Jeanne d’Arc, his ashes were buried in the Pantheon on the 18th of November 1948, at the same time as those of his great friend and colleague Paul Langevin. 


"Science replaces visible complexity by invisible simplicity" – Jean Perrin

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•    28 September (2015): placing in orbit of Astrosat, India’s first astronomical observatory in space, and confirmation by NASA of the existence of water on Mars
•    29 September (1968): Ford wins the 24 Heures du Mans for the fourth time
•    29 September (2004): the experimental aircraft SpaceShipOne flies at an altitude of more than 100 km
•    30 September (2016): the space probe Rosetta crashes on Comet Chury
•    1st October (1967): the ORTF broadcasts the first French television program in color
•    2 October (1955): end of the service life of ENIAC, the first multi-purpose programmable electronic computer
•    3 October (1807): Robert Fulton sails his steamboat the Clermont on the Hudson River, providing a postal service between New York and Albany
•    3 October (1942): first successful launch of the German V2 rocket
•    3 October (1967): the American X-15 aircraft reaches Mach 6, or 7,272.68 km/h
•    4 October (1957): the Soviet Union launches Sputnik 1, the first artificial Earth satellite