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Journal Articles Archive for History of Exact Sciences Year : 2012

Blondel et les oscillations auto-entretenues


In 1893, the "physicist-engineer" André Blondel invents the oscilloscope for displaying voltage and current variables. With this powerful means of investigation, he first studies the phenomena of the arc then used for the coastal and urban lighting and then, the singing arc used as a transmitter of radio waves in wireless telegraphy. In 1905, he highlights a new type of non-sinusoidal oscillations in the singing arc. Twenty years later, Balthasar van der Pol will recognize that such oscillations were in fact "relaxation oscillations". To explain this phenomenon, he uses a representation in the phase plane and shows that its evolution takes the form of small cycles. During World War I the triode gradually replaces the singing arc in transmission systems. At the end of the war, using analogy, Blondel transposes to the triode most of the results he had obtained for the singing arc. In April 1919, he publishes a long memoir in which he introduces the terminology "self-sustained oscillations" and proposes to illustrate this concept starting from the example of the Tantalus cup which is then picked up by Van der Pol and Philippe Le Corbeiller. He then provides the definition of a self sustained system which is quite similar to that given later by Aleksandr Andronov and Van der Pol. To study the stability of oscillations sustained by the triode and by the singing arc he uses, this time, a representation in the complex plane and he expresses the amplitude in polar coordinates. He then justifies the maintaining of oscillations by the existence cycles which nearly present all the features of Poincaré's limit cycles. Finally, in November 1919, Blondel performs, a year before Van der Pol, the setting in equation of the triode oscillations. In March 1926, Blondel establishes the differential equation characterizing the oscillations of the singing arc, completely similar to that obtained concomitantly by Van der Pol for the triode. Thus, throughout his career, Blondel, has made fundamental and relatively unknown contributions to the development of the theory of nonlinear oscillations. The purpose of this article is to analyze his main work in this area and to measure their importance or influence by placing them in the perspective of the development of this theory.
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Dates and versions

hal-01057276 , version 1 (22-08-2014)
hal-01057276 , version 2 (12-09-2014)



Jean-Marc Ginoux, René Lozi. Blondel et les oscillations auto-entretenues. Archive for History of Exact Sciences, 2012, 66 (5), pp.485-530. ⟨10.1007/s00407-012-0101-1⟩. ⟨hal-01057276v1⟩
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