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Duchenne was educated at Douai and studied medicine in Paris before returning to his hometown to put his profession to practice in 1831. By 1833 he had begun trying electricity as a form of treatment on fishermen, a force that he continued to experiment with throughout the course of his life, in effect making him the father of electro-therapeutics. In 1842 he returned to Paris and there spent the remained of his life working on developing his clinical techniques. Through electricity he also determined that smiles resulting from true happiness not only utilize the muscles of the mouth but also those of the eyes. Such "genuine" smiles are called Duchenne smiles in his honor. He is also credited with the discovery of Duchenne muscular dystrophy.
Some of his other works include:
- Functional electrical stimulation as a localization test in Neurological examination.
- tabetic locomotor ataxia
- acute poliomyelitis
- identified pseudohypertrophic muscle dystrophy
- identified progressive bulbar paralysis
- studies into lead poisoning
Duchenne effectively used the newly invented medium of photography to capture electrically induced expressions of his subjects, but wasn't able to record the actual movement of the facial muscles, a fact he complained about in his writings. Contemporary Dutch performance artist Arthur Elsenaar uses state of the art digital technology to remotely control the face of a live subject. In his performances and other works he investigates the computer-controlled human face as a medium for kinetic art and develops algorithms for facial choreography.
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