Lippmann, Gabriel (1845-1921), a French physicist, received the 1908 Nobel Prize in physics for discovering a method of taking color photographs with black-and-white film.
Lippmann was born Aug. 16, 1845, in Hollerich, Luxembourg. His French parents returned to France when Lippmann was a teen, and he was educated in Paris. In 1875, he received a doctor of science degree from the Sorbonne, the University of Paris. He became a professor of mathematical physics at the Paris Faculty of Science and later directed their research laboratory. When the laboratory was incorporated into the Sorbonne, Lippmann followed, remaining there throughout his career.
In 1886, Lippmann developed a theory for recording colored images in ordinary photographic film. French physicist Edmond Becquerel had made color photographs in 1848 by using a silver plate covered with a film of silver chloride, but his pictures faded quickly.
In 1891, Lippmann demonstrated a method for producing color photographs that did not fade quickly. Lippmann used plates of clear glass coated on one side with a thick light-sensitive coating, consisting of gelatin silver nitrate, and potassium bromide. During an exposure, the plate holder backed the glass with mercury, forming a shiny, reflecting surface. Interference patterns between incoming light waves from the object and reflected light waves from the mercury became fixed in silver grains produced chemically during development.
Within two years the Lumiere brothers, Auguste and Louis, who pioneered motion pictures, used Lippmann's method to produce color photographs. Lippmann's method was later replaced by techniques of color photography that use different layers of film, combined with color filters, to record different colors. These are the photographic methods still in use today.
Lippmann's other research included improving the accuracy of measuring electric currents. He also developed a device, called a coelostat, that stopped the movement of telescope images of stars, so that the images could be photographed.