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Optics deals with the properties of light.

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Optics is the study of the behaviour and properties of light including its interactions with matter and its detection by instruments. The word optics means appearance or look in ancient Greek.

Table of Optics, 1728 Cyclopaedia.

Optics usually describes the behaviour of visible, ultraviolet, and infrared light; however because light is an electromagnetic wave, similar phenomena occur in X-rays, microwaves, radio waves, and other forms of electromagnetic radiation and analogous phenomena occur with charged particle beams. Since the discovery by James Clerk Maxwell that light is electromagnetic radiation, optics has largely been regarded in theoretical physics as a sub-field of electromagnetism. Some optical phenomena depend on the quantum nature of light relating some areas of optics to quantum mechanics. In practice, the vast majority of optical phenomena can be accounted for using the classical electromagnetic description of light, as described by Maxwell's equations, resorting to phenomenological rules (e.g. Beer's Law, constitutive equations) to describe the interaction of light with matter. Even when still completely classical, complete electromagnetic descriptions of optical behavior are often difficult to apply to practical problems. This is why particular simplified models are used instead, notably those of geometrical optics and physical optics. These limited models adequately describe large subsets of optical phenomena while ignoring behavior that is insignificant for the system of interest.

The pure science of optics is called optical science or optical physics to distinguish it from applied optical sciences, which are referred to as optical engineering. Prominent subfields of optical engineering include illumination engineering, photonics, and optoelectronics. Some of these fields overlap, with nebulous boundaries between the subjects terms that mean slightly different things in different parts of the world and in different areas of industry. A professional community of researchers in nonlinear optics has developed in the last several decades due to advances in laser technology.

Optical science is relevant to and studied in many related disciplines including electrical engineering, psychology, and medicine (particularly ophthalmology and optometry).

Classical optics.

Before quantum optics became important, optics consisted mainly of the application of classical electromagnetism and its high frequency approximations to light. Classical optics divides into two main branches: geometric optics and physical optics.

light dispersion in a prism.
Conceptual animation of light dispersion in a prism.

Geometric optics, or ray optics, describes light propagation in terms of "rays". Rays are bent at the interface between two dissimilar media, and may be curved in a medium in which the refractive index is a function of position. The "ray" in geometric optics is an abstract object, or "instrument," which is perpendicular to the wavefronts of the actual optical waves (therefore collinear with the wave vector). Geometric optics provides rules for propagating these rays through an optical system, which indicates how the actual wavefront will propagate. This is a significant simplification of optics, and fails to account for many important optical effects such as diffraction and polarization. It is a good approximation, however, when the wavelength is very small compared with the size of structures with which the light interacts. Geometric optics can be used to describe the geometrical aspects of imaging, including optical aberrations.

Geometric optics is often simplified even further by making the paraxial approximation, or "small angle approximation." The mathematical behavior then becomes linear, allowing optical components and systems to be described by simple matrices. This leads to the techniques of Gaussian optics and paraxial raytracing, which are used to find first-order properties of optical systems, such as approximate image and object positions and magnifications. Gaussian beam propagation is an expansion of paraxial optics that provides a more accurate model of coherent radiation like laser beams. While still using the paraxial approximation, this technique partially accounts for diffraction, allowing accurate calculations of the rate at which a laser beam expands with distance, and the minimum size to which the beam can be focused. Gaussian beam propagation thus bridges the gap between geometric and physical optics.

Physical optics or wave optics builds on Huygens's principle and models the propagation of complex wavefronts through optical systems, including both the amplitude and the phase of the wave. This technique, which is usually applied numerically on a computer, can account for diffraction, interference, and polarization effects, as well as other complex effects. Approximations are still generally used, however, so this is not a full electromagnetic wave theory model of the propagation of light. Such a full model is much more computationally demanding, but can be used to solve small-scale problems that require this more accurate treatment.

Modern optics.

Modern optics encompasses the areas of optical science and engineering that became popular in the 20th century. These areas of optical science typically relate to the electromagnetic or quantum properties of light but do include other topics.

Quantum optics deals with specifically quantum mechanical properties of light. Quantum optics is not just theoretical; it can be intensely practical. Some modern devices have principles of operation that depend on quantum mechanics. For example, lasers use stimulated emission of radiation to amplify light. Light detectors, such as photomultipliers and channeltrons, respond to individual photons. Electronic image sensors, such as CCDs, exhibit shot noise corresponding to the statistics of individual photon events. Light-emitting diodes and photovoltaic cells also cannot be understood without quantum mechanics. In the study of these devices, quantum optics often overlaps with quantum electronics.

Everyday optics.

Optics is part of everyday life. Rainbows and mirages are examples of optical phenomena. Many people benefit from eyeglasses or contact lenses, and optics are used in many consumer goods including cameras. Superimposition of periodic structures, for example transparent tissues with a grid structure, produces shapes known as moiré patterns. Superimposition of periodic transparent patterns comprising parallel opaque lines or curves produces line moiré patterns.

Newton optics.

Newton's aim at Cambridge was a law degree. Instruction at Cambridge was dominated by the philosophy of Aristotle but some freedom of study was allowed in the third year of the course. Newton studied the philosophy of Descartes, Gassendi, Hobbes, and in particular Boyle. The mechanics of the Copernican astronomy of Galileo attracted him and he also studied Kepler's Optics. He recorded his thoughts in a book which he entitled Quaestiones Quaedam Philosophicae (Certain Philosophical Questions). It is a fascinating account of how Newton's ideas were already forming around 1664. He headed the text with a Latin statement meaning "Plato is my friend, Aristotle is my friend, but my best friend is truth" showing himself a free thinker from an early stage.

How Newton was introduced to the most advanced mathematical texts of his day is slightly less clear. According to de Moivre, Newton's interest in mathematics began in the autumn of 1663 when he bought an astrology book at a fair in Cambridge and found that he could not understand the mathematics in it. Attempting to read a trigonometry book, he found that he lacked knowledge of Euclid and so decided to read Barrow's edition of Euclid's Elements. The first few results were so easy that he almost gave up but he:

... changed his mind when he read that parallelograms upon the same base and between the same parallels are equal. read more about Sir Isaac Newton.

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