This note accompanies the follow episode(s):
The Writer’s Almanac for September 18, 2016: The Last Words of My English Grandmother

Sep. 18, 2016: birthday: Jean-Bernard-Léon Foucault

Today is the birthday of Jean-Bernard-Léon Foucault (1819) (books by this author), born in Paris. He was trained in medicine, but became interested in physics. He developed a method for measuring the speed of light, and discovered that light travels more slowly through water than it does through the air. He also invented a gyroscope. But he’s best known for the pendulum that bears his name. He assembled it in 1851, a 62-pound iron ball swinging from a wire 220 feet long. He suspended it inside the dome of the Panthéon in Paris. He used it to prove that the Earth rotates on its axis. Once the pendulum is set in motion, it always swings along the same axis, but its position changes relative to the position of the Earth. As the Earth rotates counterclockwise, the pendulum appears to move in a clockwise direction. His pendulum caused a sensation among scientists and laypeople alike, and soon cities throughout Europe and America had suspended their own versions. You can still see them today in many science museums; sometimes a ring of dominoes is set up around the perimeter of the circle so you can see them being knocked down as the world turns.