The exhibition “The Mysteries of Pascal” celebrates the 400th anniversary of the scientist in Clermont-Ferrand

Blaise Pascal, by François II Quesnel, around 1670.

On June 19, 1623, Blaise Pascal was born in Clermont-Ferrand. The celebration of this 400e anniversary is marked, throughout the year, by numerous events, mainly in the Auvergne capital. Highlight of these initiatives: the exhibition “The Mysteries of Pascal”, presented at the Roger-Quilliot Art Museum (MARQ).

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Although all aspects of the work and life of this man who was simultaneously a mathematician, physicist, surveyor, engineer, inventor, philosopher, theologian… are covered, this exhibition cannot claim to be exhaustive, his legacy is considerable and sometimes difficult to access. Also, the co-curators, Cécile Dupré and Justine Bouju, have contextualized her work to make it more accessible. If they dealt extensively with the religious question and his writings, they also highlighted his scientific and entrepreneurial activity.

Several Featured Inventions

Three of his accomplishments and experiences stand out. It is first of all its arithmetic machines, called today “pascalines”, ancestors of our calculators. They perform additions, subtractions, multiplications and divisions. Of the twenty or so machines he made, only eight remain. Two of them are present at the MARQ: the one he had sent to Queen Christine of Sweden and that of Chevalier Durant-Pascal, named after a cousin. It was probably the latter that he had carried out, at the age of 22, to help his father with his accounts when he had just been appointed tax collector in Rouen.

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The reconstruction of a period carriage, scale 1, reminds us that he created, in March 1662, five months before his death, the first public transport in the world with the coach at five floors. You get on and off at fixed stops and its frequency is eight per hour. Today’s visitors can retrace one of the five lines then in service in a period setting using a virtual reality headset.

Machine of the Chevalier Durant-Pascal, 1642-1662.

Among his many experiments, that of the Puy de Dôme in 1648, which confirmed the existence of atmospheric pressure, is the best known. It is evoked here with the help of engravings. Let’s remember the facts. Pascal, ill in Paris, asks his brother-in-law, Florin Périer, to go to the current Place de Jaude in Clermont-Ferrand (350 meters above sea level) with a glass tube 1 meter long, filled with mercury, returned to a container filled with the same liquid. The mercury in the tube stabilizes at 71.2 centimeters. Périer then goes to the summit of the Puy de Dôme (1,457 meters). There, the height of the liquid is only 62.7 centimeters, thus proving the reality of atmospheric pressure. These are the beginnings of a new science: meteorology.

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