Friday, September 3, 2010

Jean Leonard Marie Poiseuille

Chapter 1 of the 4th edition of Intermediate Physics for Medicine and Biology contains an analysis of the flow of a viscous fluid through a pipe. Russ Hobbie and I show that the fluid flow is proportional to the fourth power of the pipe radius. We then state that
This relationship was determined experimentally in painstaking detail by a French physician, Jean Leonard Marie Poiseuille, in 1835. He wanted to understand the flow of blood through capillaries. His work and knowledge of blood circulation at that time have been described by Herrick (1942).
The paper by Herrick appeared in my favorite journal, the American Journal of Physics (J. F. Herrick, “Poiseuille’s Observations on Blood Flow Lead to a New Law in Hydrodynamics,” Volume 10, Pages 33–39, 1942). The key paragraph in the paper is quoted below.
The important role which the physical sciences have played in the progress of the biological sciences has eclipsed, more or less, the contributions which biologists have made to the physical sciences. Some of these contributions have become such an integral part of the physical sciences that their origin seems to have been forgotten. An outstanding example of such a contribution is that by Jean Leonard Marie Poiseuille (1799–1869). About 100 years ago Poiseuille brought a fundamental law to that division of physics known as hydrodynamics—which is a branch of rheology, according to more recent terminology. This law resulted indirectly from his observations on the capillary circulation of certain animals. Most physicists, chemists and mathematicians associate the name of Poiseuille with the phenomenon of viscosity because the cgs absolute unit for the viscosity coefficient has been named the poise in his honor. Few know the story leading up to the discovery of the law which bears his name. This law had more fundamental significance than Poiseuille himself realized. It established an excellent experimental method for the measurement of viscosity coefficients of liquids. The underlying principle of this method is in use today. Since Poiseuille’s law was based entirely on experiment, it was purely empirical. However, the law can be obtained theoretically. Those who are familiar with only the theoretical development are generally surprised to learn that the law was originally determined experimentally—and still more surprised to know that Poiseuille got his idea from studying the character of the flow of blood in the capillaries of certain animals.
More about Poiseuille and his law can be found in a paper by Pfitzner (“Poiseuille and His Law,” Anaesthesia, Volume 31, Pages 273–275, 1976)
Jean Leonard Marie Poiseuille (1791–1869) was born and died in Paris. Remarkably little seems to be known about his life. He studied medicine for a considerable time and submitted a thesis for his Doctorate in 1828 (aged 30–31 years). Where he carried out his early experiments studies, and how they were financed, is obscure.

His published work includes… “Experimental Studies on the Movement of Liquids in Tubes of Very Small Diameter” (his most famous paper, completed in 1842 and published in 1846). For his work “On the Causes of the Movement of the Blood in the Capillaries” he was awarded the Paris Academie des Sciences prize for experimental physiology. In later life he became a foundation member of the Academie de Medecine of Paris.
My biggest question about Poiseuille is the pronunciation of his name. I gather that it is pronounced pwah-zweez. The unit of the poiseuille has been proposed for a pascal second (or, newton second per square meter), but is not commonly used.

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