History of Optics

Natural phenomena come in various forms, which we often see every day.  Because of these phenomena, scientists dedicate time and effort to study the scientific principles behind them. Throughout the years, several scientists contributed to building the knowledge that we have in our modern world.

Some phenomenon is a product of light, which is electromagnetic radiation present in various places. Light serves a vital role in our lives because of its usefulness in multiple aspects. Without it, living on our planet would seem unimaginable.

Since prehistoric ages up to our world today, people take advantage of light, wherein experts use it not only in lighting up a room but also in other complicated situations.

Because of the rather complex properties of light, scientists went to a broader study of light in hopes of reaching scientific advances related to it. This sophisticated study of light is called optics.

In this article, we are going to look into optics, as well as its origin.

What is Optics?

Optics is a branch of physics devoted to the study of the behavior and properties of light. It also focuses on the interaction of light with matter, along with the equipment used for producing and observing light.

Optics is not limited to the study of visible light since it also observes the behavior of ultraviolet and infrared light. These types of light are common in our modern world, and we often use them in various situations.

Optics deals with a broader definition of light. This study mainly states that light is an electromagnetic wave, which shares similarities with other forms of electromagnetic radiations, such as X-rays, microwaves, and radio waves.

All of these factors contribute to the development of modern-day optics, and how brilliant scientists invented various ways to utilize these scientific advances.

What is the origin of optics?

Alhazen, the father of modern optics

Surprisingly, we can trace back the history of optics to 2000 BC when ancient civilizations developed the earliest form of lenses, including those made from polished crystal. Different countries made their version of lenses, wherein ancient Greeks and Romans created lenses by filling glass spheres with water. These early inventions and discovery of lenses led to the advancement of other design variants, as well as sparked interest in the study of light. During this time, the word optics was coined by the ancient Greek, which means ‘appearance or looks.’

Among the early civilizations who contributed to the development of optics, ancient Greek was the one that made the most significant impact on its history. Ancient Greek is responsible for developing theories about how vision worked, mainly the intromission theory and the emission theory. However, these theories are merely speculations, which lack concrete scientific explanations. Some of the great philosophers who studied the fundamentals of optics were Democritus, Epicurus, and Aristotle.

During the 4th century BC, the Greek mathematician, Euclid, wrote a treatise, which shows the relation of optics to geometry. This work of Euclid led to the creation of geometrical optics, which started new scopes of study for other philosophers and scientists. His works showcased a more detailed explanation of how light works, the mathematical rules of perspective, and the effects of refraction.

Moreover, in the early 11th century, the Arab mathematician and physicist Alhazen, took a giant leap in the study of light. He wrote the Book of Optics, which defined reflection and refraction, as well as other fundamentals in optics. It shows the results of his observation and experiment, which created a new system for describing vision and light. His works earned him the title ‘father of modern optics.’

Fast-forward to the 17th century when Johannes Kepler added some principles in geometric optics, as well as other factors related to optics. One of his well-known works is the Keplerian telescope, which is an upgraded type of telescope using two convex lenses for higher magnification.

During the late 17th century, Sir Isaac Newton made his share in the development of optics. He did a more extensive study of Descarte’s ideas, which resulted in a corpuscle theory of light. This theory shows component parts of white light.

The advancement of optics grew rapidly during the 20th century when the great physicists came into the scientific world. Some of these scientists were Max Planck, Neils Bohr, and Albert Einstein. Their works made a breakthrough in the study of light. During this time, Einstein published the theory of photoelectric effect, which is one of his most famous works, earning him a Nobel Prize in Physics in 1921. Their works became a basis for other scientists, which is still widely recognized up to our modern world.