Lucien Bull Irish Inventor

Lucien Bull 1876-1972 Pioneer Of High-speed Photography And Inventor Of Improved ElectroCardioGraph

Lucien Bull was born on 8 th Jan 1876 in Dublin. In 1894, he moved to Paris in order to work as an assistant for Étienne-Jules Marey, a pioneer in the world of cinematography. Marey was a physiologist, studying how the human body worked and he felt that if he could capture human movement on film, he would be able to expand scientific understanding in this field. Marey’s camera was the forerunner of the motion picture camera. Lucien Bull devised a high-speed version of this camera to photograph projectiles such as a bullet piercing a soap bubble. Bull is the first to obtain photographs of insects in flight and also of ballistic projectiles.

With Marey’s early cameras the film has to stop to be exposed, this means that there is a limit to the number of exposures that can be achieved per second. Marey managed, at best, to set up twelve plates in a row, in order to photograph one second of action. The result was very like looking at a flicker book. In Bull’s camera the film is no longer halted and moves continuously while the subject is illuminated many times per second. In other words the film now works like a modern movie camera. This means that the number of images achievable per second is only limited by the number of times that a light can go on and off per second and the speed that the film can travel through the reels without breaking. In 1904, 1,200 images per second was achieved, by 1918, this is up to 50,000 images per second. He eclispsed these figures in 1952, recording one million images per second!

Marey’s work was not exclusively in the world of film. As a physiologist he was fascinated by every element of the way that the body functioned, including the heart. In fact as early as 1876 Marey uses an electrometer to record the electrical activity of an exposed frog’s heart. This was to prove the forerunner of the ECG, the electrocardiograph. While he continued to work on this as a sideline, other scientists such as Waller and Einthoven focused their attention on the subject and brought forward working ECG’s that did not require the drastic step of exposing the heart! Lucien Bull continued Marey’s work on the ECG, using the data obtained from Waller and Einthoven. His version, patented in 1908, was a much more viable design than the one that won Einthoven his Nobel Prize. However, it did not achieve the recognition that it deserved, many histories ignoring Bull’s contribution altogether.

After Marey’s death in 1904, Bull becomes the Director of l’Institut Marey in Paris . In 1933, he is put in charge of research, National Office of Research and Invention in France. In 1948 he becomes President of the Institute of Scientific Cinematography in Paris. Other achievements included research on optical illusions and acoustic phenomena, apparatus for the location of gun batteries through sound, and photographic techniques of shock waves. He died in Paris in August 1972.

High Speed Photography