An Introduction to Optics

 Elevator Down

People kind have had a profound interest in light forever. The statement above, in Latin, is taken from Genesis 1:3 .Light was created right after the vast waste of the Earth. This was on the first day. Of course. on the third day were created the sun and the moon,begging the question 'From whence did the light come on day one.' We won't go there
Science can be viewed as an organized analysis of data collected by your senses. Your sense of touch is limited to the space of your body. Other senses extend your range of interaction further away from your personal space. Of these, your sense of sight is the grandest, allowing you to witness in the stars events that occurred long ago and far away. Light is a very narrow band on the electromagnetic spectrum that happens to be quite abundant in our cosmic neighborhood. Over the extent of time that life developed, organisms developed sensors (we call them eyes) that detect this radiation.

As with everything else, the Greeks had made observations and had formed opinions regarding the nature and propagation of light. For a quick review of this early work, go to -
see also an optics time line at

Our formal study of the behavior of solar radiation will begin with the work of Newton at the dawn of the eighteenth century. In his book, Optics, published in 1703, Newton suggested that light had a particle nature and went on to explain the optical phenomena known in his time in terms of his particles, which he called corpuscles. The corpuscular theory maintained its place of prominence until 1801 when Thomas Young did a series of experiments that pointed to the conclusion that light was a wave. The wave theory, which had been proposed originally by Christiaan Huygens, became the dominant line of thought on the nature of light for the nineteenth century. then came the twentieth century; enter Max Planck and Albert Einstein who suggested that light sometimes exhibits its wave nature and at other times behaves like a lump of stuff, possessing momentum and other particle properties. Particles. Waves. Waving particles. Nothing is easy, it seems.

 A. Light as a Ray
 B. Light as a Wave
 C. Light shows its wave-particle nature

Click here to see a list of prominent people in optics

References - For useful references regarding this topic, go to REFERENCES.

This page was last modified by mgosselin on 10/08/2005

Website Counter  

Return to Table of Contents