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  ABDNP20437a01.JPG - James Clerk Maxwell's Phenakistascope Discs With due deference to all the present members of staff of the University, past FRSs and Nobel Prize winners, within the foreseeable future James Clerk Maxwell is likely to remain the University's most distinguished and influential professor.  In 1856 you could have watched the newly appointed Professor of Natural Philosophy walk with his slightly springy step across the Marischal College courtyard: a well-built young man of twenty five years, middling height, dressed for comfort rather than elegance; a twinkle in his dark eyes as he smiled to himself over some wry juxtaposition of thoughts that had sprung into his head from he knew not where.  Maxwell's sense of humour, his love of wit and a joke, was a trait apparently not shared with his granite grey colleagues. A recreational interest that Maxwell brought from his childhood was an interest in optical toys that combined the elements of fun and innovation.  Among these was the phenakistascope.  Around a cardboard disc were drawn 8 or 10 successive phases of a periodic movement.  This disc was mounted over a large circular plate fixed on a hand-held spindle.  The larger plate had peripheral viewing slots through which the drawings could be seen as they were rotated in front of a mirror.  On rotating the disc, the drawn movement would appear animated.  It was a toy precursive of the cinematograph. Our phenakistascope disks are charming mementoes of Maxwell at play.  Rob Fairley in his account of Maxwell's cousin Jemima Blackburn identifies one or two as being likely drawn by her.   ABDNP:200437a  
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18 | James Clerk Maxwell's Phenakistascope Discs

With due deference to all the present members of staff of the University, past FRSs and Nobel Prize winners, within the foreseeable future James Clerk Maxwell is likely to remain the University's most distinguished and influential professor. In 1856 you could have watched the newly appointed Professor of Natural Philosophy walk with his slightly springy step across the Marischal College courtyard: a well-built young man of twenty five years, middling height, dressed for comfort rather than elegance; a twinkle in his dark eyes as he smiled to himself over some wry juxtaposition of thoughts that had sprung into his head from he knew not where. Maxwell's sense of humour, his love of wit and a joke, was a trait apparently not shared with his granite grey colleagues.

A recreational interest that Maxwell brought from his childhood was an interest in optical toys that combined the elements of fun and innovation. Among these was the phenakistascope. Around a cardboard disc were drawn 8 or 10 successive phases of a periodic movement. This disc was mounted over a large circular plate fixed on a hand-held spindle. The larger plate had peripheral viewing slots through which the drawings could be seen as they were rotated in front of a mirror. On rotating the disc, the drawn movement would appear animated. It was a toy precursive of the cinematograph.

Our phenakistascope disks are charming mementoes of Maxwell at play. Rob Fairley in his account of Maxwell's cousin Jemima Blackburn identifies one or two as being likely drawn by her.

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