miracle of light
may be more to celebrate in the International Year of Physics
than meets the eye. Indeed, the Year marks not only the
centenary of Einstein's miraculous year but also the millennium
of the founding of modern optics by physicist Ibn Haitham.
Ibn Haitham's light beam
In order to settle the long-standing
debate over how vision worked, Ibn Haitham pioneered an
experimental set-up of surprising simplicity: the pinhole
camera, or camera obscura2, the principle behind all photography
from the earliest cameras to modern-day digital ones. [More]
through the pinhole camera
we turn to the second property of light underpinning a light-cone
diagram, let’s take a closer look at the impact of the pinhole
camera, an invention which has powered centuries of scientific
of light infinite or finite?
of the most fundamental phenomena in optics are reflection
and refraction, both of which Ibn Haitham investigated through
countless experiments. [More]
in-depth analysis of reflection and refraction appears in
the second half of Ibn Haitham’s masterpiece Kitab Al-Manazir,
or Book of Optics, translated into Latin as Opticae Thesaurus
– a revolutionary work firmly based on geometry and experiment,
reforming the established optical tradition of Ptolemy.
Designing the perfect lens
to legend, Archimedes (Greece, 287–212 BC) set invading
Roman ships afire by focusing sunrays onto them using huge
Light’s dual nature: simply miraculous
centuries after Ibn Haitham, the Persian physicist K. Al-Farisi
(1267–1319) wrote an important commentary on the Book of
Optics, in which he set out to explain many natural phenomena.
Alhazen’s Billiard Problem
recent proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem3, hailed as one of
the biggest mathematical triumphs of the 20th century, left
perhaps the last of the great problems in classical geometry
half-solved: Alhazen’s Problem. [More]
you ever wondered why the Moon looks much bigger when it
is near the horizon? This intriguing phenomenon, known as
the ‘Moon illusion’, is arguably the oldest unsolved scientific
puzzle today. [More]
search for quantum gravity
One of the intended goals of the International
Year of Physics is perhaps to inspire another paradigm shift,
which might well be needed in order to solve the central
problem in physics today: finding a theory for quantum gravity.
Over the Moon!
Today, in celebration of Ibn Haitham,
who correctly explained the nature of the Moon's surface,
a lunar crater has been named after him.