Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Solar Energy History continued


Solar Energy History
The French Connection

Act 3
Charles Cros

While Augustin Mouchot was inventing mirror based solar engines, a fellow countryman, at around the same time, was thinking of solar mirrors on a much larger scale indeed.

Charles Cros (1842-1888)

Charles Cros was a dapper looking French poet, scientist, visionary and inventor. He was well regarded both as a poet and a humorous writer.

In the 1870s, he came up with the idea of a machine that would mechanically record sound by tracing oscillations, captured on a diaphragm, onto a metal-coated cylinder. He called his invention the “Paleophone” or “voix du passé”, literally “voices from the past”. He submitted his idea in a letter to the Academy of Sciences in Paris, which haughtily dismissed it as impractical.

Only a year later, the better funded US Edison inventing factory demonstrated a working model of the device, which was called the phonograph. It used almost precisely the ideas outlined by Cros.

In addition to his phonograph, Cros developed improved photographic processes including an early colour process. He also invented improvements in telegraph technology.

Charles Cros was convinced, by contemporary astronomers published findings, that there was life on Mars. As a result, he was thinking how solar mirrors might be used to communicate with Mars. He published his proposition in his 1869 book called “Moyens de Communications avec les Planètes”.

The idea was to build a huge movable mirror with extremely shallow parabolic curvature, thus making for a very distant focal point. Make the focal point the surface of Mars, and use the heat to “write” “a greeting card” on the Martian desert. His thinking did not go as far as to how the Martians might react to a heat ray incinerating their land.

Vision is what makes invention and Cros had plenty of that. He was, a mainly self taught, genius who could turn his hand to just about anything.

I like the above photo of him, he looks like the kind of guy I would like as a next door neighbour and a friend. He was a sad figure though, who's genius seems to have been generally overlooked.

He married and had two sons René and Guy. It is reported that he died in wretched poverty his body literally burned out from, among other things, absinthe on August 9th 1888, a mere 46 years old.

France has not forgotten Charles Cros, the French version of a National Academy of Recording Arts is called “L'Académie Charles Cros”, and their annual award is named “Le Prix Charles Cros”.

A dark and sad end for a very bright man - may his spirit rest in peace.


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