Pioneers in the Optical Sciences
From the earliest days in Alexandria (circa 300 BC) when Euclid described the laws of reflection in Optica, the science of optics has fascinated and challenged society's most brilliant minds. The earliest pioneers in optics reached for the stars with difficulty as they developed crude lenses and mirrors for their telescopes while other investigators focused on the hidden microscopic world through aberration-plagued compound optical systems that hampered early microscopes.
Today, millions of the optically-challenged need be thankful to these pioneers for the eyeglasses, contact lenses, and other advances that have evolved from innovations dating back as early as 1303 when Bernard of Gordon, a French physician, wrote about the use of spectacles as a way of correcting long-sightedness (hypermetropia). From the earliest compound microscopes, enabling anatomists to describe the properties of blood cells, to the modern electron and scanning laser confocal microscopes and NASA's Hubble space telescope, the science of optics has helped us understand the world around us, our bodies, and the diseases we face in our daily lives.
Whether it is Polaroid instant photos, sunglasses, disposable contact lenses, the ubiquitous television, videos, or the more recent compact discs, fiber optics communications, and digital cameras, we all reap the harvest of seeds planted by pioneers in the optical sciences. Tribute is paid to these heroes through brief biographies that acknowledge their tremendous accomplishments and how they have affected our civilization.
Ernst Abbe (1840-1905) - Ernst Abbe was a brilliant German mathematician and physicist who made several of the most important contributions to the design of lenses for optical microscopy. Abbe studied physics and mathematics as an undergraduate at the University of Jena and went to graduate school at the University of Göttingen, where he received a doctorate in thermodynamics. In 1863 Abbe joined the faculty at the University of Jena where he taught physics. He met Carl Zeiss in 1866 and became very interested in the optical problems surrounding mid-nineteenth century microscopy. Together with Zeiss, Abbe formed a partnership and he was made the research director of Zeiss Optical Works late in 1866, and assumed control of the company when Zeiss died in 1888.
Sir George Biddell Airy (1801-1892) - Sir George Airy was a distinguished nineteenth century English Astronomer Royal who carried out optical research and first drew attention to the visual defect of astigmatism. Airy manufactured the first correcting eyeglasses (1825) using a cylindrical lens design that is still in use. The diffraction disks that bear his name (Airy Disks) were discovered in the spherical center of a wavefront traveling through a circular aperture. These diffraction patterns form the smallest unit that comprises an image, thus determining the limits of optical resolution.
Alhazen (965-1040) - Born in Iraq as Abu Ali Hasan Ibn al-Haitham, the great Arab physicist is more often known by the Latinized version of his first name, Alhazen. The efforts of Alhazen resulted in over one hundred works, the most famous of which was Kitab-al-Manadhirn, rendered into Latin in the Middle Ages. The translation of the book on optics exerted a great influence upon the science of the western world, most notably on the work of Roger Bacon and Johannes Kepler. A significant observation in the work contradicted the beliefs of many great scientists, such as Ptolemy and Euclid. Alhazen correctly proposed that the eyes passively receive light reflected from objects, rather than emanating light rays themselves.
Robert Day Allen (1927-1986) - Robert Day Allen was a renowned microscopist, a prominent researcher of cell motility processes, and a co-developer of video-enhanced contrast microscopy ((VEC)), which is a modification of the traditional form of differential interference contrast (DIC) microscopy. Along with Georges Nomarski and G. B. David, Allen assisted the Carl Zeiss Optical Company in developing a Nomarski differential interference microscope for transmitted light applications. In a hallmark paper published in Zeitschrift für wissenschaftliche Mikroskopie und mikroskopische Technik, Allen and his colleagues defined the basic principles of the DIC technique and the interpretation of images.
Giovanni Battista Amici (1786-1863) - Giovanni Amici was an Italian microscopist, astronomer, optical instrument designer, and botanist, who is best known as the achromatic lens inventor, also designed reflecting telescopes and introduced a lens for the inspection of an objective's rear focal plane, termed the Amici-Bertrand lens. In 1850, he also invented the water immersion lens.
Anders Jöns Ĺngström (1814-1874) - Anders Ĺngström was a Swedish physicist, mathematician, and astronomer who is widely considered the father of spectroscopy. In his research, Ĺngström expressed the results in the unit (one ten-millionth of a millimeter) that now bears his name.
Dominique-François-Jean Arago (1786-1853) - In 1811, Arago, in collaboration with Augustin-Jean Fresnel, discovered that two beams of light polarized in perpendicular directions do not interfere, eventually resulting in the development of a transverse theory of light waves. Arago was also instrumental in the success and funding of Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre's photographic process, known as the daguerreotype, and directed studies that directly led to the discovery of the location of Neptune by Urbain-Jean-Joseph Le Verrier.
Jacques Babinet (1794-1872) - Jacques Babinet was a French physicist, mathematician, and astronomer born in Lusignan, who is most famous for his contributions to optics. Among Babinet's accomplishments are the 1827 standardization of the Ĺngström unit for measuring light using the red cadmium line's wavelength, and the principle (bearing his name) that similar diffraction patterns are produced by two complementary screens.
Roger Bacon (1214-1294) - Roger Bacon was an English scholastic philosopher who was also considered a scientist because he insisted on observing things for himself instead of depending on what other people had written. Bacon's writings included treatises on optics (then called perspective), mathematics, chemistry, arithmetic, astronomy, the tides, and the reformation of the calendar. His skill in the use of optical and mechanical instruments caused him to be regarded by many as a sorcerer. Bacon was acquainted with the properties of mirrors, knew the powers of steam and gunpowder, had a working knowledge in microscopy, and possessed an instrument very much like a modern telescope.
Henry Baker (1698-1774) - Henry Baker was an eighteenth century English naturalist, poet and pioneer of education for the deaf and for children with speech impediments. Although he did not make any major contributions in the areas of scientific research, he made a significant contribution to the popularization and dissemination of scientific knowledge. His particular interest was the field of microscopy. Baker published two books about microscopes that were widely popular with translations made into Dutch and French.
Daniel Barbaro (1514-1570) - Daniel Barbaro was an Italian nobleman who encouraged the use of the camera obscura for artistic endeavors. By the time he adapted the technique, however, the chamber of the camera obscura was typically a simple box rather than an entire room. Barbaro is credited with translating ten books on architecture written by the celebrated Roman engineer Vitruvius and composed his own work "La pratica della perspettiva" ("Practice of Perspective"), which was published in 1568.
Friedrich Johann Karl Becke (1855-1931) - Friedrich Johann Karl Becke was an Austrian geologist, mineralogist and petrologist from the University of Prague, who developed a method for determining the relationship between light refraction and refractive index differences observed in microscopic specimens. The phenomenon, which is now referred to as the formation of Becke lines, has been named for him.
Max Berek (1886-1949) - Max Berek was a German physicist and mathematician, associated with the firm of E. Leitz, who designed a wide spectrum of optical instruments, in particular for polarized light microscopy and several innovative camera lenses. Professor Berek is credited as the inventor of the Leica camera lens system at their Wetzlar factory.
Jean-Baptiste Biot (1774-1862) - Jean-Baptiste Biot was a physicist and mathematician who made advances in geometry, astronomy, elasticity, magnetism, heat and optics. For his work on the polarization of light passing through chemical solutions, Biot received the Rumford Medal from the Royal Society in 1840. Biot also worked with Felix Savart to discover that the intensity of the magnetic field established by a wire carrying an electric current is inversely proportional to the distance from the wire. The relationship, now referred to as the Biot-Savart Law, is an elemental component of modern electromagnetic theory.
Alexandre Edmond Becquerel (1820-1891) - During his investigations into the nature of fluorescence and phosphorescence, Becquerel invented the phosphoroscope, a device capable of measuring the duration of time between the exposure of a solid, liquid, or gas to a light source and the substance's exhibition of phosphorescence. Through the use of the phosphoroscope, the physicist was able to more accurately determine whether or not certain materials exhibited phosphorescence or fluorescence. The phosphoroscope also enabled Becquerel to discover phosphorescence in a number of materials that were previously not believed to exhibit the effect.
John S. Billings (1838-1913) - Lieutenant Colonel John S. Billings served as the curator for the United States Army Medical Museum for a ten year period from 1883 until 1893. During that time, he initiated the assembly of what has become one of the world's largest collections of microscopes. This collection was begun in 1874 by Colonel Billings' predecessor, Lieutenant Colonel George A. Otis, an Army medical officer who acquired several historic microscopes from a Philadelphia instrument maker. Visitors to Washington DC can view many of the microscopes in the Billings Collection at the National Museum of Health and Medicine at Walter Reed Army Hospital.
Niels Bohr (1885-1962) - Building on Ernest Rutherford's work on the nucleus, Bohr developed a new theory of the atom, which he completed in 1913. The work proposed that electrons travel only in certain orbits and that any atom could exist only in a discrete set of stable states. Bohr further held that the outer orbits, which could hold more electrons than the inner ones, determine the atom's chemical properties and conjectured that atoms emit light radiation when an electron jumps from an outer orbit to an inner one. Although Bohr's theory was initially viewed with skepticism, it earned him the Nobel Prize in physics in 1922 and was eventually expanded by other physicists into quantum mechanics.
Giovanni Borelli (1608-1679) - Born as Giovanni Francesco Antonio Alfonso in Naples, Italy on July 28, 1608, the son of a Spanish infantryman was to become a great mathematician and physicist, later changing his surname to Borelli. An adept microscopist, Borelli was dedicated to preserving and advancing the Galilean tradition of studying nature and is most renowned for his studies in physiology. In 1681, Borelli posthumously published a work that ultimately led to his being termed the father of biomechanics. His physiological studies were based on solid mechanical principles, which included muscle analysis and a mathematical illustration of movements, such as running and jumping.
Savile Bradbury (1931-2001) - Savile Bradbury, a noted English microscopist, published his first paper in 1955, and more than 80 more were to follow over the rest of his career. He also authored, or co-authored, 13 books, many of them staples of the scientific community. Through works such as The Evolution of the Microscope (1967), An Introduction to the Optical Microscope (1989), and Introduction to Light Microscopy (1998), Bradbury pioneered efforts to both preserve the history of microscopy and to introduce the field to a new generation of scientists. He was also a talented lecturer, and reached thousands of developing minds through his educational and interesting presentations.
James Bradley (1693-1762) - James Bradley was an English astronomer most famous for his discovery of the aberration of starlight. The finding was an important piece of evidence supporting Copernicus's theory that the Earth moved around the sun and provided an alternative way to assess the velocity of light. When Edmund Halley died in 1742, Bradley was named his successor as Astronomer Royal at Greenwich Observatory. He held the influential position for the rest of his life, greatly improving upon the condition of the observatory and the instruments it contained.
William Henry Bragg (1862-1942) - Sir William Henry Bragg was a noted British physicist and President of the Royal Society who had numerous research interests, but the work that earned him a rank as one the great leaders in science was his historic advancements in X-ray crystallography. Working with his son William Lawrence Bragg, he developed a method of bombarding single crystals with high-energy X-rays emitted by specially constructed vacuum tubes. By examining the pattern of X-rays diffracted by various crystals, Bragg and his son were able to establish some fundamental mathematical relationships between an atomic crystal structure and its diffraction pattern. For this achievement, William Henry Bragg and William Lawrence Bragg were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1915.
Tycho Brahe (1546-1601) - Tycho Brahe was a Danish astronomer who made the most accurate observations possible without the aid of a telescope. On November 11, 1572 he observed what seemed to be a bright new star near Cassiopeia and studied it for the next 18 months. Brahe was surprised to find that the star seemed to be further away than the moon and that it intensified in brightness before eventually slowly fading out of view. The event was extremely significant because it would not have been possible if the Aristotelian conception of a harmonious and unchanging universe were correct. Brahe attempted to modify the Ptolemaic theory to coincide with his observations, and proposed the Tychonic system, in which the Earth remained immobile, but the sun served as a secondary center. Although it was an interesting attempt at a compromise between two completely different viewpoints, the Tychonic system never garnered much support.
Sir David Brewster (1781-1868) - Sir David Brewster was a Scottish physicist who invented the kaleidoscope, made major improvements to the stereoscope, and discovered the polarization phenomenon of light reflected at specific angles. In his studies on polarized light, Brewster discovered that when light strikes a reflective surface at a certain angle (now known as Brewster's Angle), the light reflected from that surface is plane-polarized. He elucidated a simple relationship between the incident angle of the light beam and the refractive index of the reflecting material.
Louis de Broglie (1892-1987) - During his long and illustrious career, de Broglie worked on various aspects of wave mechanics and published a large number of scientific treatises. He also taught theoretical physics at the Sorbonne in Paris and composed several books exploring the relationship between physics and philosophy. In addition to the Nobel Prize, de Broglie received a large number of other honors, including a number of honorary doctorate degrees, an appointment as an adviser to the French Atomic Energy Commissariat, and election into the French Academy of Sciences and the British Royal Society.
Georges de Buffon (1707-1788) - Born Georges-Louis Leclerc, the eighteenth century natural historian, mathematician, and scientist who pioneered drastic alterations in the design of lenses used in lighthouses, is often better known as Georges de Buffon, a name associated with an estate he inherited from his mother when he was about 25 years old. His method of constructing concave mirrors continues to be used in modern times and one of his inventions was a special mirror that could be used as a weapon by focusing sunlight intensely onto flammable objects.
Robert Wilhelm Bunsen (1811-1899) - Robert Bunsen is most familiar with scientists today in association with the Bunsen burner, a device found in educational chemistry laboratories around the word. Ironically, Bunsen only made minor alterations to the familiar burner, rather than inventing it, and made many more generally important contributions to science. Indeed, in work he carried out with Gustav Kirchhoff, Bunsen helped lay the foundations of spectroscopy, a field that has had a tremendous impact on the modern understanding of the world.
Girolamo Cardano (1501-1576) - Girolamo Cardano was a sixteenth century mathematician and physician who made an important adaptation to the design of the camera obscura. His most popular works during his lifetime were De subtilitate libri, published in 1550, and its follow-up De subtilitate rerum, published in 1557. The works covered a wide array of topics and contained natural history, anecdotes, physical experiments, and inventions. It was in De subtilitate libri that Cardano made his primary contribution to optics. Within the work, he described the use of a bi-convex lens in conjunction with a camera obscura, the earliest known mention of such a design. He also included detailed descriptions of the improved images he was able to achieve with the configuration, which increased both sharpness and intensity.
Claude Chappe (1763-1805) - Claude Chappe was an engineer and cleric who invented a device known as the semaphore visual telegraph, an optical signaling system especially important during the French Revolution. In August of 1794, Chappe's semaphore visual telegraph conveyed in less than an hour the news that the Republican army had recaptured Condé-sur-l'Escaut from the Austrians, a feat that would have taken approximately twenty-four hours if transported by courier on horseback. The system was considered a success and another line was soon installed between Paris and Landau, others following in later years.
Pavel Alekseyevich Cherenkov (1904-1990) - In 1958, Pavel Cherenkov was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for his discovery and characterization of the Cherenkov effect, an optical phenomena that occurs when charged particles move at speeds greater than the speed of light. Today, the Cherenkov effect is considered invaluable to the field of spectroscopy, as well as to the study of cosmic rays and other high-speed particles. Cherenkov counters, which are specialized instruments that can measure particle velocity by using the light emitted by Cherenkov radiation, have garnered widespread use by experimental scientists studying particle and nuclear physics.
Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543) - Perhaps realizing what the consequences might be for openly opposing long-held beliefs and standard Church doctrine, Nicolaus Copernicus postponed the publication of his complete body of work supporting the heliocentric theory for more than thirty years. A young scholar Georg Joachim Rheticus, who lived with Copernicus for a period between 1539 and 1542, was integral in moving the project forward. It was under his name that a brief account of Copernicus's heliocentric theory known as the Narratio Prima was published in 1540.
Marie Alfred Cornu (1841-1902) - Cornu made a wide variety of contributions to the fields of optics and spectroscopy, but is most noted for significantly increasing the accuracy of contemporary calculations of the speed of light. In 1878, Cornu made adjustments to an earlier method of measuring the velocity of light developed by Armand Fizeau in the 1840s. The changes and improved equipment resulted in the most accurate measurement taken up to that time, 299, 990 km per second. Other significant accomplishments of Cornu include a photographic study of ultraviolet radiation and the establishment of a graphical approach, known as the Cornu spiral, for calculating light intensities in Fresnel diffraction.
Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre (1787-1851) - Born near Paris, France on November 18, 1787, Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre was to become both a painter and the inventor of the first successful form of photography. As an artist, Daguerre was interested in creating realistic renderings and utilized a camera obscura to aid his efforts. In hopes of simplifying the process, he became intrigued with the idea of permanently fixing an image chemically, as were many others during the period. Working with Joseph-Nicephore Niepce, Daguerre developed a photographic process termed the daguerreotype, which enjoyed widespread use in Europe for a limited time during the middle 1800s.
Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) - Leonardo da Vinci was a painter, sculptor, architect, engineer, scientist and genius who best represents the ideals of the Renaissance period. Da Vinci was a great engineer and inventor who designed buildings, bridges, canals, forts and war machines. He was also fascinated by birds and flying and drew designs of fantastic flying machines. Da Vinci was also intrigued with the study of optics and conducted extensive investigations and made drawings about the nature of light, reflections, and shadows. Even though it was not until over 100 years later that the first telescope was invented by Hans Lippershey, da Vinci realized the possibility of using lenses and mirrors to view heavenly bodies. Da Vinci was one of the greatest painters of all times. The Last Supper and the Mona Lisa are two of his best-known paintings.
René Descartes (1596-1650) - René Descartes is often referred to as the father of modern philosophy for his revolutionary breach from Aristotelian thought. In its place he attempted to establish a dualistic system that rested on a clear distinction between the mind, the origin of thought, and matter. He is, perhaps, most commonly remembered for his philosophical declaration, "Cogito, ergo sum" (I think, therefore I am). However, in addition to his many philosophical reflections, Descartes made significant contributions to mathematics and the sciences, including optics.
John Dollond (1706-1761) - John Dollond was a British telescope maker who patented the discovery of the achromatic lens in the middle eighteenth century. The discovery of achromatic lenses made of flint and crown glass heralded a new era for telescope makers, but the same did not apply to the microscope. This is primarily due to technical difficulties in manufacturing the tiny achromatic compound lenses necessary for microscope objectives. The story of the achromatic lens is filled with controversy because it is widely believed that Dollond was not the inventor of the achromatic lens, but learned about its properties from lens maker George Bass.
Christian Doppler (1803-1853) - Christian Johann Doppler was a nineteenth century physicist and mathematician who is most often remembered for his discovery of the Doppler effect, which is central to modern conceptions of sound and light. Doppler first demonstrated this phenomenon with a group of musicians traveling in an open railroad car, but was unable to successfully prove the theory for visible light frequencies. Since that time, however, the Doppler effect has proven invaluable for astronomical observations, paving the way for a host of new scientific discoveries and concepts. Most notably, the motions of stars detected through this manner led to the development of the big bang theory of creation.
George Eastman (1854-1932) - From humble beginnings, George Eastman revolutionized the field of photography by simplifying the process and making it accessible to the masses. In 1884, he patented a paperbacked-film, and roll-holders to use with the material soon followed. The new photographic system was instantly successful, but Eastman was intent on reaching an even wider consumer base. He was struck with the idea of selling a preloaded camera that was sent back to the company for development and printing, making photography possible even for amateurs. In 1888, the first Kodak camera was ready to be sold and Eastman advertised in the leading periodicals, introducing photography to the general public to much acclaim.
Thomas Alva Edison (1847-1931) - Thomas Edison was an American inventor who achieved his greatest successes in his Menlo Park laboratory and was called the "Wizard of Menlo Park." This research and development laboratory was the first of its kind anywhere; it became a model for later, modern research and development facilities such as Bell Laboratories. It was during this period of his life that Edison and his staff were responsible for many inventions and innovations. More patents were issued to Edison than have been issued to any other single person in United States history, a total of 1,093. Edison is perhaps best known for his invention of the incandescent light bulb.
Albert Einstein (1879-1955) - Albert Einstein was one of the greatest and most famous scientific minds of the 20th century. The eminent physicist is best remembered for his theories of relativity, as well as his revolutionary notion concerning the nature of light. However, his innovative ideas were often misunderstood and he was frequently ridiculed for his vocal involvement in politics and social issues. The birth of the Manhattan Project yielded an inexorable connection between Einstein's name and the atomic age. However, Einstein did not take part in any of the atomic research, instead preferring to concentrate on ways that the use of bombs might be avoided in the future, such as the formation of a world government.
Euclid (325-265 BC) - Though often overshadowed by his mathematical reputation, Euclid is a central figure in the history of optics. He wrote an in-depth study of the phenomenon of visible light in Optica, the earliest surviving treatise concerning optics and light in the western world. Within the work, Euclid maintains the Platonic tradition that vision is caused by rays that emanate from the eye, but also offers an analysis of the eye's perception of distant objects and defines the laws of reflection of light from smooth surfaces. Optica was considered to be of particular importance to astronomy and was often included as part of a compendium of early Greek works in the field. Translated into Latin by a number of writers during the medieval period, the work gained renewed relevance in the fifteenth century when it underpinned the principles of linear perspective.
Leonhard Euler (1707-1783) - Leonhard Euler is best known as a prolific mathematician, but he also made notable contributions in optics and astronomy. In optics, Euler entered the debate on the nature of light and argued, contrary to the more popular view at the time, that light was not composed of particles. Instead, Euler's theory of light was founded upon the existence of ether, which he believed served as a pervasive medium for light vibrations. Much of Euler's work on light was published in the three-part work Dioptrica, the first volume of which was published in 1769. Within Dioptrica, the properties of lenses are discussed, the groundwork for the calculation of optical systems is established, and descriptions of microscopes and telescopes are provided.
Michael Faraday (1791-1867) - When Michael Faraday was born to a blacksmith in Surrey, England on September 22, 1791, there was little expectation that he would become one of the most influential scientists of the nineteenth century. Before his career had ended, Faraday succeeded in discovering the aromatic hydrocarbon benzene, built the first electric motor, and his studies spawned the vast field of cryogenics. He also invented the transformer and dynamo, and then established the principle of electromagnetic induction in 1831 to explain his experimental findings. By 1832, Faraday had also revealed the laws of electrolysis that bear his name. In 1845, Faraday began studying the influence of magnetic fields on plane-polarized light waves, and discovered that the plane of vibration is rotated when the light path and the direction of the applied magnetic field are parallel, a phenomenon now known as the Faraday effect. In his attempts to prove that all matter reacts to a magnetic force, Faraday established the classes of materials known as paramagnetic and diamagnetic, and ultimately revolutionized contemporary notions of space and force.
Pierre de Fermat (1601-1665) - Pierre de Fermat was a lawyer by occupation, but possessed one of the greatest mathematical minds of the seventeenth century. He made major contributions to geometric optics, modern number theory, probability theory, analytic geometry, and is generally considered the father of differential calculus. Through the use of his method for determining minima and maxima, Fermat established what is usually described as the principle of least time in 1658. According to the tenet, a beam of light traveling between two points will follow the path that takes the shortest amount of time to complete. From the principle of least time, the law of refraction and the law of reflection can be deduced. Future scientists, however, demonstrated that Fermat's principle was incomplete or only partially true.
Armand Fizeau (1819-1896) - Armand Fizeau is best known for being the first to develop a reliable experimental method of determining the speed of light on the Earth. Previously, the speed of light was measured based upon astronomical phenomena. Fizeau also conducted experiments that demonstrated that the velocity of light is a constant, regardless of the motion of the medium it is passing through. It was previously established that light traveled at different rates through different mediums, but prior to Fizeau's discovery, it was believed that if the medium was in motion, the velocity of the speed of light would be increased by the movement of the medium.
Jean-Bernard-Leon Foucault (1819-1868) - Jean-Bernard-Leon Foucault was a French physicist who is considered one of the most versatile experimentalists of the nineteenth century. Together with the French physicist Armand Fizeau, Foucault developed a way to measure the speed of light with extreme accuracy. He also proved independently that the speed of light in air is greater than it is in water. Foucault's other contributions to the field of optics included a method of measuring the curvature of telescope mirrors, an improved technique to silver astronomical mirrors, a method of testing telescope mirrors for surface defects, and the invention of a polarizing prism to analyze polarized light.
Jean-Baptiste-Joseph Fourier(1768-1830) - Jean-Baptiste-Joseph Fourier was a mathematician and Egyptologist, most famous for his studies on heat and for the infinite mathematical series he introduced to aid in solving conduction equations. The Fourier series has since transcended its originally intended purpose, spawning many new areas of study in mathematics and physics, including the branch of optics named for him. Fourier was elected to the French Academy of Sciences in 1817, became Secretary of the organization in 1822, and published his award winning essay Analytical Theory of Heat that same year.
Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) - Benjamin Franklin was born to a poor soap boiler on January 17, 1706 in Boston, Massachusetts. As a journalist, scientist, inventor, statesmen, philosopher, musician, and economist, Benjamin Franklin can be thought of as a colonial Renaissance man. Through hard work and great ideas, Franklin helped shaped a young nation with the aid of his many hard-earned skills. Benjamin Franklin was a pivotal player in the foundation of the United States of America.
Joseph von Fraunhofer (1787-1826) - In 1813, von Fraunhofer accomplished what is often considered his greatest achievement. He independently rediscovered William Hyde Wollaston's dark lines in the solar spectrum, which are now known as Fraunhofer lines. He described a great number of the 500 or so lines he could see using self-designed instruments, labeling those most prominent with letters, a form of nomenclature that is still in favor. Fraunhofer lines would eventually be used to reveal the chemical composition of the sun's atmosphere.
Augustin-Jean Fresnel (1788-1827) - Augustin-Jean Fresnel, was a nineteenth century French physicist, who is best known for the invention of unique compound lenses designed to produce parallel beams of light, which are still used widely in lighthouses. In the field of optics, Fresnel derived formulas to explain reflection, diffraction, interference, refraction, double refraction, and the polarization of light reflected from a transparent substance.
Dennis Gabor (1900-1979) - In the late 1940s, Dennis Gabor attempted to improve the resolution of the electron microscope using a procedure that he called wavefront reconstruction, but which is now known as holography. Though he was unable to realize his goal at the time, his work was to find much more prolific use years later, after the development of the laser in 1960. Gabor received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1971 for his foundational holographic research and experimentation.
Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) - Galileo's many and varied accomplishments span the scientific disciplines of astronomy, physics, and optics. He was also an inventor, mathematician, and author who is widely known for his famous experiment dropping different size balls from the Leaning Tower of Pisa that resulted in new ideas about physics and the idea that "laws" of science could, and should, be questioned.
James Gregory (1638-1675) - James Gregory was a seventeenth century mathematician and astronomer who developed infinite series representations for various trigonometric functions, but is better known for providing the first account of a practical reflecting telescope. Due to his hesitancy to publish, however, he received only a fraction of the credit he deserved during his lifetime, the magnitude of his achievements only becoming recognized in the 1930s when his papers were examined and published by H. W. Turnbull.
Robert Grosseteste (1175-1253) - Grosseteste was particularly interested in astronomy and mathematics, and he asserted that the latter was essential to investigations of natural phenomena. Consequently, his study of light often took a mathematical turn, resulting in a refinement of optical science. In his investigations of rainbows, comets, and other optical phenomena, he notably made use of both observational data and mathematical formulations. Moreover, Grosseteste was an early proponent of the need for experimental support of scientific theories and carried out numerous experiments with mirrors and lenses.
Edmund Halley (1656-1742) - Though they at first appeared to follow different laws of motion than the planets, Edmund Halley believed that comets must also be affected by gravitational pulls. In his analysis of comet observations, he realized that certain aspects of three were so similar that they must be the successive returns of a single entity whose orbit was an elongated ellipse. He then determined the periodicity of the comet and successfully predicted it would return in 1758. In addition to his study of comets, Halley discovered relative motion among the stars, which had previously been believed to be fixed. He contrived the first meteorological weather map and established accurate quantitative mortality tables. Halley also commanded the first sea voyage undertaken purely for scientific purposes, noting any compass variations that could be caused by the Earth's magnetic field.
William Rowan Hamilton (1805-1865) - Largely due to his important treatise on systems of rays, William Rowan Hamilton won the position of Royal Astronomer of Ireland while still an undergraduate at Trinity College, but it would be for his prediction of conical refraction that he would achieve even wider recognition in scientific circles. Hamilton later concentrated his efforts on the study of dynamics and produced several important papers in the field. Hamiltonian mechanics became appreciated as the discipline of quantum mechanics began to take shape in the twentieth century.
Edmund Hartnack (1826-1891) - Edmund Hartnack was a nineteenth century German microscope maker who studied his craft in Berlin under Wilhelm Hirschmann. In 1857, Hartnack joined the instrument-making firm of his uncle, Georges Oberhauser (1798-1868), which was based in Paris and enjoyed a reputation for high quality products. Hartnack made improvements to the drum-shaped microscope that allowed for better and more easily obtained oblique lighting and was also one of the first instrument makers to include a substage condenser in his designs. Hartnack is perhaps best known, however, for the great improvements he made to water immersion lenses.
John Frederick William Herschel (1792-1871) - John Herschel was the only child of renowned scientist and astronomer William Herschel. In 1820, the younger Herschel was one of the founding members of the Royal Astronomical Society, and when his father died in 1822 he carried on with the elder Herschel's work, making a detailed study of double stars. In collaboration with James South Herschel compiled a catalog of observations that was published in 1824. The work garnered the pair the Gold Medal from the Royal Astronomical Society and the Lalande Prize from the Paris Academy of Sciences. In 1839, Herschel developed a technique for creating photographs on sensitized paper, independently of William Fox Talbot, but did not attempt to commercialize the process. However, he published several papers on photographic processes and was the first to utilize the terms positive and negative in reference to photography.
William Herschel (1738-1822) - Friedrich William Herschel was an eighteenth century German astronomer who is credited with the discovery of the planet Uranus. In addition, Herschel measured the heights of about one hundred mountains on the moon, carefully recorded the data, and prepared papers that were presented to the Royal Society of London. In the late 1700s, he began to build and sell telescopes. The high quality of Herschel's optics was soon widely known outside of England, and he utilized them to publish three catalogues containing data on 2500 heavenly objects, including the sixth and seventh moons of Saturn, Enceladus and Mimas. Herschel continued making observations and cataloging his discoveries until his death in 1822 at age 84.
Heinrich Rudolph Hertz (1857-1894) - The German physicist Heinrich Hertz is widely known for his work with electromagnetic waves, but is also important for his contributions to the field of optics. Most notably, Hertz was the first investigator ever to observe the phenomenon that would eventually come to be known as the photoelectric effect. The discovery of this phenomenon, which is generally defined as the emission of electrons from a surface exposed to electromagnetic radiation above a certain threshold frequency, had a tremendous influence on the perception of light, which was just beginning to be understood in terms of a duality between waves and particles late in Hertz's lifetime, and which would not come to be widely accepted until many years after his death.
James Hillier (1915-Present) - During his graduate years at the University of Toronto, James Hillier became involved in a project that would alter the course of his life, as well as the field of electron microscopy. As a graduate student, Hillier, along with Albert Prebus developed a high-voltage electron microscope that could be used to examine biological specimens. The device they created could magnify objects up to 7,000 times their actual size, a significant improvement over 1930s light microscopes, which could only increase the dimensions of specimens by about 2000 times.
Robert Hooke (1635-1703) - Robert Hooke was an experimental scientist who lived in seventeenth century England where he made major contributions to the emerging discipline of optical microscopy. Hooke's interest in microscopy and astronomy is exemplified by the treatise Micrographia, his best known work on optical microscopy, and a volume on comets, Cometa detailing his close observation of the comets occurring in 1664 and 1665. Hooke observed a wide diversity of organisms in the microscope, including insects, sponges, bryozoans, diatoms, and bird feathers. Perhaps less well known, Robert Hooke coined the term "cell", in a biological context, as he described the microscopic structure of cork like a tiny, bare room or monk's cell in his landmark discovery of plant cells with cell walls.
Christiaan Huygens (1629-1695) - Christiaan Huygens was a brilliant Dutch mathematician, physicist, and astronomer who lived during the seventeenth century, a period sometimes referred to as the Scientific Revolution. Huygens, a particularly gifted scientist, is best known for his work on the theories of centrifugal force, the wave theory of light, and the pendulum clock. His theories neatly explained the laws of refraction, diffraction, interference, and reflection, and Huygens went on to make major advances in the theories concerning the phenomena of double refraction (birefringence) and polarization of light.
Shinya Inoué (1921-Present) - Shinya Inoué is a microscopist, cell biologist, and educator who has been described as the grandfather of modern light microscopy. The pioneering microscopist heavily influenced the study of cell dynamics during the 1980s through his developments in video-enhanced contrast microscopy (VEC), which is a modification of the traditional form of differential interference contrast (DIC) microscopy. Inoué developed the method in parallel with Robert and Nina Allen and described his work at the same meeting of the American Society for Cell Biology as his fellow scientists. His seminal work, Video Microscopy, was published in 1986, and a second revised and updated edition, co-authored with Kenneth Spring, followed in 1997. The book is a cornerstone of microscopical knowledge and is highly regarded throughout the scientific community.
Alexander Jablonski (1898-1980) - Born in the Ukraine in 1898, Alexander Jablonski is best known as the father of fluorescence spectroscopy. Jablonski's primary scientific interest was the polarization of photoluminescence in solutions, and in order to explain experimental evidence gained in the field, he differentiated the transition moments between absorption and emission. His work resulted in his introduction of what is now known as a Jablonski Energy Diagram, a tool that can be used to explain the kinetics and spectra of fluorescence, phosphorescence, and delayed fluorescence.
Zacharias Janssen (1580-1638) - Zacharias Janssen is generally believed to be the first investigator to invent the compound microscope. However, because the accomplishment is generally agreed among historians to be dated in the 1590s, most scholars believe that his father, Hans, must have played an important role in the creation of the instrument. The pair worked together as spectacle makers in Middleburg, Holland not far from Hans Lippershey, another optical scientist who is often alternatively credited with the invention of the microscope.
Michael Kasha (1920-Present) - Michael Kasha has made numerous discoveries and contributions to the scientific world, greatly influencing the development of molecular electronic spectroscopy and molecular photochemistry. His work concerning excited-state radiationless transitions resulted in what came to be known as Kasha's Rules, and he also demonstrated that a solvent containing heavy atoms could generate singlet-triplet transitions of organic molecules, a phenomenon eventually designated the Kasha effect.
John Kerr (1824-1907) - John Kerr was a Scottish physicist who discovered the electro-optic effect that bears his name and invented the Kerr cell. Pulses of light can be controlled so quickly with a modern Kerr cell that the devices are often used as high-speed shutter systems for photography and are sometimes alternately known as Kerr electro-optical shutters. In addition, Kerr cells have been used to measure the speed of light, are incorporated in some lasers, and are becoming increasingly common in telecommunications devices.
Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) - Johannes Kepler was a sixteenth century German astronomer and student of optics who first delineated many theories of modern optics. In 1609, he published Astronomia Nova delineating his discoveries, which are now called Kepler's first two laws of planetary motion. This work established Kepler as the "father of modern science", documenting how, for the first time, a scientist dealt with a multitude of imperfect data to arrive at a fundamental law of nature.
Gustav Robert Kirchhoff (1824-1887) - Gustav Kirchhoff was a nineteenth century physicist who is well known for his contributions to circuit theory and the understanding of thermal emission, but who also made significant discoveries in optics. His work in the area spectroscopy, much of which was carried out in conjunction with chemist Robert Bunsen, was foundational to the field, as was his study of black body radiation. Kirchhoff's findings are commonly considered to have been instrumental to Max Planck's quantum theory of electromagnetic radiation formulated at the beginning of the twentieth century.
August Köhler (1866-1948) - August Köhler, a German scientist and expert microscopist born in 1866, is best known for his development of a superior microscope illumination technique, which is still utilized today, and for designing the first ultraviolet microscope. The method, termed Köhler illumination, is also known as double diaphragm illumination, because it uses both a field and an aperture iris diaphragm to configure microscope illumination. Setting up the light path correctly with this configuration results in an evenly illuminated field of view and a brighter image without glare.
Edwin Herbert Land (1909-1991) - The founder of the Polaroid Corporation, Edwin Herbert Land was an American inventor and researcher who dedicated his entire adult life to the study of polarized light, photography and color vision. Perhaps Land's most famous contribution to science, however, was his development of instant photography. The invention was inspired by his three-year old daughter when she asked him why she could not instantly see a picture he had just taken of her on vacation. The one-step dry photographic process took Land three years to perfect, but his success was phenomenal.
Antonie van Leeuwenhoek (1632-1723) - Antonie van Leeuwenhoek was a famous Dutch scientist who made simple microscopes that were able to magnify objects over 275 times, an amazing feat for the period. He studied Protists, plant cells, various types of algae, and was the first person to view bacteria, which he termed "animalcules". Leeuwenhoek's curiosity about this microscopic world and his diligence in recording his painstaking observations enabled him to share with others what he had seen with his microscopes.
Philipp Eduard Anton Lenard (1862-1947) - Philipp Lenard is somewhat of controversial figure in the history of science. He undoubtedly made significant contributions to the field of physics, but suffered in reputation in his later life due to his alignment with the Nazi party and his unfounded condemnation of other scientists, especially Albert Einstein and other individuals with Jewish backgrounds. Ironically, it was Einstein's theoretical work that helped make sense of some of Lenard's most important experimental work on the photoelectric effect and which greatly influenced the Nobel Foundation's decision to award the 1905 Nobel Prize for Physics to Lenard.
Johann Nathanael Lieberkühn (1711-1756) - Johann Nathanael Lieberkühn was a German physician, anatomist, and physicist. He is most widely known for development of the solar microscope, studies of the intestine, and invention of a reflector for improving microscopic viewing of opaque specimens. He was also a member of the mathematics department at the Berlin Academy of Sciences and created a lens that enhanced the use of early portable microscopes for botanical fieldwork.
Hans Lippershey (1570-1619) - Hans Lippershey was a Dutch eyeglass maker who most historians believe was the inventor of the first telescope. In 1608, Lippershey applied for a patent for his telescope with the Belgian government. Lippershey called his invention a kijker, meaning looker in Dutch. Even though he was paid very well for his invention, a patent was not granted because it was felt the instrument could not be kept a secret.
Joseph Jackson Lister (1786-1869) - The nineteenth century amateur microscopist Joseph Jackson Lister is credited with making some of the most important advances toward correcting image aberrations and establishing the microscope as a powerful means of carrying out serious scientific investigations. Aided by the renowned optician William Tulley, Lister had found that by combining lenses of flint glass with those of crown glass and spacing them at specific distances from one another, the refractive problems of one were amended by the other, enabling clearer microscopic observations than ever before.
Albertus Magnus (1193-1280) - During his pursuit of science, Albertus touched upon a number of subjects and phenomena, including the nature of light. He was particularly interested in the formation of rainbows and wrote upon the subject with enthusiasm. He also hypothesized that the speed of light was finite though it could travel extremely fast, and examined the darkening action of bright sunlight on crystals of silver nitrate. Furthermore, looking out at the night sky, Albertus determined that the Milky Way was just an immense assembly of stars that received the light of the sun and argued that figures visible on the face of the moon were configurations on its surface, rather than a reflection of the Earth's seas and mountains, as had been previously believed. He also studied the reflection of light through the use mirrors, as well as the refraction capabilities of certain crystals.
Theodore Harold Maiman (1927-Present) - Theodore Maiman is best remembered for constructing the world's first laser, a device that has transcended the field of optics to find a diversity of applications in the modern world. In May of 1960, Maiman built his prototype laser using a synthetic ruby rod silvered at both ends to reflect light. Small enough to be held in the palm of the hand, when the atoms in the rod were excited by an intense beam of light from a xenon lamp, a release of energy was initiated and an internal chain reaction occurred that caused the energy to bounce back and forth within the rod. When the energy built up to a certain level, it escaped from one end of the ruby rod to form an intense beam of monochromatic light centered at 694.3 nanometers.
Marcello Malpighi (1628-1694) - Marcello Malpighi was a seventeenth century Italian physiologist who directed his microscope toward biological investigations and became one of the greatest microscopists of all time. Many historians regard Malpighi as the father of microscopical anatomy in both animals and plants, although he was considered more of a practical researcher than a theorist.
Étienne-Louis Malus (1775-1812) - In 1807, Malus commenced experiments on double refraction, the phenomenon that causes a light beam to divide into two orthogonal rays on passing through certain materials, such as Iceland spar. Malus's findings supported those obtained earlier by Dutch scientist Christiaan Huygens, whose description of double refraction was founded upon the then controversial idea that light is characteristically wavelike. In 1808, Malus discovered that light could be polarized (a term coined by Malus) by reflection as he observed sunlight reflected from the windows of the Luxemburg Palace in Paris through an Iceland spar crystal that he rotated.
Étienne-Jules Marey (1830-1904) - A French physiologist, Étienne-Jules Marey invented the photographic "gun", which was capable of taking 12 pictures per second and looked similar to a rifle. This instrument is commonly considered the first movie camera. Following the release of improved photographic film by George Eastman in 1885, Marey was able to vastly increase the photographic gun's exposure speed to 60 images per second, greatly improving the quality of his motion pictures and essentially laying the foundations of modern cinematography.
Benjamin Martin (1704-1782) - Benjamin Martin, an eighteenth century English instrument maker, is considered one the greatest designers and manufacturers of microscopes of his time. Martin had a significant influence on the development of the microscope and optical instruments in general, and designed several microscopes that were revolutionary for the period. He was one of the first designers to incorporate achromatic lenses into microscopes to help reduce the severity of chromatic aberration.
James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879) - James Clerk Maxwell was one of the greatest scientists of the nineteenth century. He is best known for the formulation of the theory of electromagnetism and in making the connection between light and electromagnetic waves. He also made significant contributions in the areas of physics, mathematics, astronomy and engineering. He considered by many as the father of modern physics.
Walter C. McCrone (1916-2002) - Walter McCrone was an optical microscopist from Chicago who founded the world-famous McCrone Research Institute and made a significant number of contributions to microscopy as an investigational tool. McCrone's acclaimed work with the Shroud of Turin received worldwide attention in 1978 when he concluded that the Turin Shroud is a medieval painting. This observation was vindicated by radioactive carbon-14 dating techniques in 1988. In 2000, McCrone received the American Chemical Society National Award in Analytical Chemistry for his work on the Turin Shroud and for this enduring patience for the defense of his work for nearly 20 years.
Albert Michelson (1852-1931) - Albert Abraham Michelson, a Polish-American physicist, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1907. He is best known for his experiments in which he proved that the hypothetical medium of light, the "ether", did not exist, and his many attempts at accurately measuring the speed of light. Michelson is also well known for developing a means to more accurately measure the speed of light and the size of stars.
Robert Andrews Millikan (1868-1953) - Robert Millikan was an American physicist who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics for his experiments on the photoelectric effect and on the charge carried by an electron. The renowned scientist also is well known for his studies of cosmic rays and his role in establishing the California Institute of Technology as a leading research establishment. Throughout his life, Millikan was dedicated to reconciling the realms of science and religion, publishing many books on the topic.
Marvin Lee Minsky (1927-Present) - While at Harvard University, Marvin Minsky made his primary contribution to the field of optics by inventing the confocal scanning microscope. Despite the theoretical benefits of the confocal approach for biological purposes, Minsky's microscope originally generated little interest. In hindsight it has become apparent that the technology of the period limited Minsky's demonstration of the potential of the confocal approach. Yet, years later, with the advent of such applicable devices as lasers, sensitive low-noise photodetectors, and fast microcomputers with image processing capabilities, Minsky's microscopy technique has become widespread in biological research.
Erwin Müller (1911-1977) - Erwin Wilhelm Müller was a German-born physicist who invented both the field emission microscope and the field ion microscope, the latter of which enabled him to be the first person to ever observe individual atoms. In 1967, Müller invented yet another important scientific instrument, which he referred to as an atom probe, but later came to be more widely known as the atom probe field ion microscope. Along with Müller's other inventions, the atom probe field ion microscope represented a significant advance in the field of materials science.
Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727) - Sir Isaac Newton, who was ironically born the same year that Galileo died, is popularly known as one of history's greatest scientists. Many of his discoveries and theories in the areas of light, color, and optics form the basis for current scientific thought in these disciplines. In addition to his extensive work in optics, Newton is perhaps best known for his theory of universal gravitation. He also is considered one of the inventors of calculus along with German mathematician Gottfried Leibniz. Newton's three laws of motion are considered basic to any physics student's education.
Joseph Nicéphore Niepce (1765-1833) - Joseph Niepce was a French researcher who is most famous for producing the first known photograph. Exposure of the image took approximately eight hours long and, therefore, Niepce realized that further advances needed to occur before the process could be commercialized. Though he was initially hesitant, in 1829 he formed a partnership with Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre in hopes of more expediently perfecting the technique. Niepce never gained widespread recognition during his lifetime, but his fundamental contributions to the silver-halide based process are forever written into the annals of photography.
Paul Gottlieb Nipkow (1860-1940) - Paul Nipkow was a German engineer and inventor who proposed the world's first electromechanical television system. The innovative system was based upon a simple device known as the Nipkow disk, which consisted of either metal or cardboard and was perforated with a series of square holes arranged in a spiral. Nipkow once used his device to transmit a visual image from London to Paris, but the system was never developed for commercial use. The Nipkow disk is currently used extensively in reflected light confocal scanning microscopy to produce images that can be viewed in real time through the microscope eyepieces. Several thousand points are simultaneously illuminated on the disk to mimic the effect of several thousand confocal microscopes running in parallel. The rapidly spinning disk fills spaces between the holes to create a real-time confocal image.
Friedrich Adolf Nobert (1806-1881) - Friedrich Nobert was a German scientist and instrument maker who was the first to develop fine line gratings used in stage micrometers. Nobert attached an apparatus, which held a carefully positioned diamond point, to a circle dividing engine so he could cut parallel ruled sets of lines onto glass. His first test plate, created in 1845, contained ten ruled lines separated by a specific distance. The first line was divided into 1/1000 of a Paris line and the tenth into 1/4000 of a Paris line. In this manner, the first resolution test for the compound optical microscope had been created.
Georges Nomarski (1919-1997) - A Polish born physicist and optics theoretician, Georges Nomarski adopted France as his home after World War II. He is credited with numerous inventions and patents, including a major contribution to the well-known differential interference contrast (DIC) microscopy technique. Also referred to as Nomarski interference contrast (NIC), the method is widely used to study live biological specimens and unstained tissues.
Max Planck (1858-1947) - Max Planck, a German physicist, is best known as the originator of the quantum theory of energy for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1918. His work contributed significantly to the understanding of atomic and subatomic processes. Planck made significant contributions to science throughout his life. He is recognized for his successful work in a variety of fields including, thermodynamics, optics, statistical mechanics, and physical chemistry.
Maksymilian Pluta (1929-2002) - While still a graduate student, Pluta began working at the Optics Department in the Institute of Precise Mechanics, which was later reorganized into the Central Optics Laboratory and then into the Institute of Applied Optics. He would remain involved with the department and Warsaw University in varying capacities throughout his entire professional career. Among the many awards bestowed upon Pluta were the Silver Cross of Merit, the Cross of Poland's Independence, and the Gold Honor Badge of the Italian Society of Mineralogy and Petrology (SIMP). He was also awarded a prestigious prize from the Foundation of Polish Science in 1995 in the field of technical science for his opus Advanced Light Microscopy, which is still available from booksellers. Pluta's landmark treatise on basic and advanced techniques is considered by many microscopists to be the most comprehensive and definitive treatment of optical microscopy yet published.
Johan Sebastiaan Ploem (1927-Present) - Johan Ploem, a renowned scientist, has been a physician, educator and researcher, but is most famous for his invention of the epi-illumination cube used in fluorescence microscopy. Ploem's vertical illuminator bears his name and is commonly used today. The design consists of an excitation filter, dichroic mirror (or beamsplitter), and a barrier (or emission) filter housed together in a small cube. In addition to solving lighting problems previously incurred in fluorescence microscopy, Ploem's illumination cube has made it a simple process to change fluorescence filter combinations by rotating a knob or translating a lever.
Ignazio Porro (1801-1875) - Ignazio Porro's primary contribution to optics was an innovative prism image erecting system that is commonly used in binoculars and stereomicroscopes, though he also invented and improved a number of other scientific instruments. Binoculars designed with Porro prisms, which were first conceived in the mid-1800s, were refined by other scientists and became one of the most popular varieties of binoculars by the dawn of twentieth century. In fact, the instruments, which enjoy simplicity of design as well as greater depth perception and a wider field-of-view than many other binocular designs, continue to be sold around the globe in the early twenty-first century.
Hugh Powell (1799-1883) - Hugh Powell was a famous British instrument maker who, together with his brother-in-law Peter Lealand, made the world-renowned No. 1 microscope. Powell was a pioneer of using very high powers in objective lens systems and advanced microscope design, and his contributions to the fields of optics and microscopy were integral in the shaping of modern research. In fact, many of Powell's designs are still incorporated in scientific instruments today.
Claudius Ptolemy (Approximately 87-150) - Claudius Ptolemy was one of the most influential Greek astronomers and geographers of his time. Ptolemy propounded the geocentric theory in a form that prevailed for 1400 years. According to historians, Ptolemy was a mathematician of the very highest rank, however others believed that he committed a crime against his fellow scientists by betraying the ethics and integrity of his profession.
John Thomas Quekett (1815-1861) - Inspired by Joseph Jackson Lister's 1830 paper on achromatic microscopes, Quekett and his brother Edwin were among the seventeen founding members of the Microscopical Society of London, now known as the Royal Microscopical Society. As the world's first microscopical organization, formation of the group was of great consequence and has resulted in a significant impact on many fields related to microscopy. They began humbly, however, in 1839 at Edwin's house, Number 50 Wellclose Square in London.
Chandrasekhar Venkata Raman (1888-1970) - While studying light diffraction, Raman discovered that when an intense light was passed through a transparent medium, a small fraction of the light surfaced in directions other than the incoming beam, and an even smaller part of this fraction of light exhibited different wavelengths than the incident light. After his findings were made public in 1928, the scattering of the light molecules came to be known as Raman scattering, which was considered a result of the Raman effect, the change in wavelength of light when it is deflected by molecules.
Jesse Ramsden (1735-1800) - Jesse Ramsden was an eighteenth century English designer and manufacturer of mathematical and astronomical instruments. He is best known for the design of a telescope and microscope eyepiece (ocular) still commonly used today and bearing his name. Ramsden designed instruments of great accuracy. These included instruments to divide circles and straight lines, sextants, and vertical circles for astronomical observatories. The Ramsden eyepiece reduces blurring of the image caused by chromatic aberrations and is still used to this day in telescopes and microscopes.
Lord Rayleigh (John William Strutt) - (1842-1919) - Lord Rayleigh was a British physicist and mathematician who worked in many disciplines including electromagnetics, physical optics, and sound wave theory. The criteria he defined still act as the limits of resolution of a diffraction-limited optical instrument. Rayleigh wrote over 446 scientific papers, but is perhaps best known for his discovery of the inert gas argon, which earned him a Nobel Prize.
Johann Wilhelm Ritter (1776-1810) - Johann Ritter's greatest accomplishment is generally considered his discovery in 1801 of a previously unknown region of the solar spectrum. A year before, William Herschel had announced the existence of the infrared region, which extends past the red region of visible light. Ritter, who believed in the polarity of nature, hypothesized that there must also be invisible radiation beyond the violet end of the spectrum and commenced experiments to confirm his speculation. Ritter initially referred to the new type of radiation as chemical rays, but the title of ultraviolet radiation eventually became the preferred term.
Ole Christensen Roemer (1644-1710) - Roemer' s greatest achievement was the first relatively accurate measurement of the speed of light, a feat he accomplished in 1676. At the Royal Observatory in England, Roemer's studies of Jupiter's moon Io and its frequent eclipses enabled him to predict the periodicity of an eclipse period for the moon. By applying the relatively inaccurate calculations for the distances between Earth and Jupiter available during the seventeenth century, Roemer was able to approximate the speed of light to be 137,000 miles (or 220,000 kilometers) per second.
Jean-Baptiste Romé de l'Isle (1736-1790) - Jean-Baptiste Romé de l'Isle was a French mineralogist who is best known as one of the founders of scientific crystallography. Within his works, he established that various shapes of crystals of the same natural or artificial substance are all closely related to each other. Moreover, measurements he took with a goniometer enabled him to determine that the angles between corresponding faces of a crystal are always the same, which is often described as the first law of crystallography.
William Parsons Rosse (1800-1867) - Born William Parsons, Rosse was known as Lord Oxmantown before he became the third Earl of Rosse upon the death of his father in 1841. He served in a variety of political positions and was an avid astronomer. He is most famous for his construction of the largest and most powerful reflecting telescope in the Victorian period, which was frequently referred to as the Leviathan. The Leviathan's tremendous resolving power enabled Rosse, who was principally interested in nebulae, to make a number of astronomical discoveries and attracted scientists from around the world. It remained the world's largest telescope for almost 75 years and continued as the most powerful in terms of resolution for an even longer period of time. Dismantled in the early twentieth century, Rosse's telescope was restored in 1997 and is now part of a historic science center located at Birr.
Warren de la Rue (1815-1889) - Warren de la Rue was a nineteenth century microscopist, astronomer, and chemist who invented the photoheliograph. His investigations of photoactive chemicals, electrical discharge in gaseous substances, and batteries are especially notable, the latter resulting in the invention of the silver chloride cell. De la Rue was also intrigued by optics and carried out many experiments in the field, some of which tested the wave theory of light. He is most remembered, however, for his pioneering role in astrophotography.
Ernst Ruska (1906-1988) - German engineer Ernst Ruska designed and built the first electron microscope, a device that far surpassed previous resolution capabilities and allowed scientists to view things too small to be seen with a light microscope. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1986 for the feat, an honor he shared that year with Heinrich Rohrer and Gerd Binnig, who co-developed the scanning tunneling microscope.
Ernest Rutherford (1871-1937) - Rutherford's atomic model paved the way for the modern understanding of the atom. It was also the foundation of the important developments regarding the structure of atoms made by Niels Bohr, who was once his protégée. Based on studies of alpha particles passing through thin plates of mica and gold, Rutherford came to the conclusion that the intense electric field required to cause the large deflections that were occurring could be explained only if all the positive charge in the atom were concentrated on a very small central nucleus. He further postulated that the positive charge on the nucleus must be balanced by an equal charge on all the electrons distributed around the nucleus.
Angelo Sala (1576-1637) - Angelo Sala was the self-educated son of an Italian spinner whose experiments with silver salts were an important step towards the invention of the photographic process. In 1614, he demonstrated that the sun blackened powdered silver nitrate, as well as paper that was wrapped around it, and published his findings in a pamphlet. Robert Boyle had made a similar observation previously, but mistakenly believed that the darkening resulted from exposure to air, rather than light. It was not until Sala's discovery was combined with the optics work of many others, however, that photography was finally invented in the 1830s.
Otto Schott (1851-1935) - Schott was considered a leading pioneer in glass chemistry due to his creation of new glass types of high quality for use in optics and in the industry. Together with Ernst Abbe and Carl Zeiss, Schott formed the Scott Glass Works, which produced glass for apochromatic microscope objective lenses virtually free of chromatic aberration. Microscopes equipped with these advanced lenses produce the highest degree of resolution and are widely utilized today.
Erwin Schrödinger (1887-1961) - The Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger made fundamental advances in establishing the groundwork of the wave mechanics approach to quantum theory. Influenced by de Broglie's work, which had gained additional weight due to the support of Albert Einstein, Schrödinger attributed the quantum energies of the electron orbits in the atom thought to exist to the vibration frequencies of electron matter waves, now known as de Broglie waves, around the nucleus of the atom. For his significant contributions to science, Schrödinger was bestowed with many honors, including the Nobel Prize for Physics, which he shared with Paul Dirac in 1933.
Henri Hureau de Sénarmont (1808-1862) - Sénarmont was a professor of mineralogy and director of studies at the École des Mines in Paris, especially distinguished for his research on polarization and his studies on the artificial formation of minerals. He also contributed to the Geological Survey of France by preparing geological maps and essays. Perhaps the most significant contribution made by de Sénarmont to optics was the polarized light retardation compensator bearing his name, which is still widely utilized today.
Willebrord Snell (1580-1626) - Willebrord Snell was an early seventeenth century Dutch mathematician who is best known for determining that transparent materials have different indices of refraction depending upon the composition. Snell discovered that a beam of light would bend as it enters a block of glass, and that the angle of bending was dependent upon the incident angle of the light beam. Light traveling in a straight line into the glass will not bend but, at an angle, the light is bent to a degree proportional to the angle of inclination. In 1621, Snell found a characteristic ratio between the angle of incidence and the angle of refraction. Snell's law demonstrates that every substance has a specific bending ratio—the "refractive index. The greater the angle of refraction, the higher the refractive index for a substance.
George Gabriel Stokes (1819-1903) - Throughout his career, George Stokes emphasized the importance of experimentation and problem solving, rather than focusing solely on pure mathematics. His practical approach served him well and he made important advances in several fields, most notably hydrodynamics and optics. Stokes coined the term fluorescence, discovered that fluorescence can be induced in certain substances by stimulation with ultraviolet light, and formulated Stokes Law in 1852. Sometimes referred to as Stokes shift, the law holds that the wavelength of fluorescent light is always greater than the wavelength of the exciting light. An advocate of the wave theory of light, Stokes was one of the prominent nineteenth century scientists that believed in the concept of an ether permeating space, which he supposed was necessary for light waves to travel.
Jan Jacbz Swammerdam (1637-1680) - Jan Swammerdam was a seventeenth century Dutch microscopist and naturalist who is most famous for his microscopic observations and descriptions of insect development that were published posthumously as The Bible of Nature, but is more often referred to as The Book of Nature due to a mistranslation of the title. Swammerdam pioneered the use of the microscope for zoological purposes, and is considered a founder of both comparative anatomy and entomology.
Joseph Swan (1828-1914) - Physicist and Chemist Sir Joseph Swan is remembered most for his work with incandescence for illumination purposes, as well as his research into light sources such as the carbon filament incandescent lamp and an improved version of Edison's patented light bulb. The most significant feature of Swan's lamps were that they lacked enough residual oxygen in the vacuum tube to ignite the filament, thus allowing the tungsten could glow almost white-hot without catching fire. Swan also invented the dray plate in 1871 and bromide photographic paper in 1879.
William Fox Talbot (1800-1877) - William Fox Talbot, an English chemist, philosopher, mathematician, linguist, and Egyptologist, is best known for the innovative photographic techniques he developed. His work in the mid-1800s is the foundation upon which modern photography is based. Bad timing, however, has left Talbot a footnote to Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre who is more popularly known as the founder of modern photography. Daguerre publicly announced his method for creating a plate from which a single photographic print could be made. Only a few weeks after this announcement, Talbot revealed his innovation, the Calotype.
Samuel Tolansky (1907-1973) - Born in Newcastle upon Tyne, England as Samuel Turlausky, Tolansky performed a significant amount of his research and developed the interference contrast microscopy technique that bears his name. Other research interests of Tolansky included the analysis of spectra to investigate nuclear spin and the study of optical illusions. Although he was primarily concerned with the spectrum of mercury, during World War II Tolansky was asked to ascertain the spin of uranium-235, the isotope capable of fission in a nuclear chain reaction.
John Tyndall (1820-1893) - From a humble background, John Tyndall rose to great heights, becoming one of the most eminent men of science during his period. The self-made man was a powerful lecturer and an influential writer who published on topics ranging from molecular physics and magnetism to mountaineering, literature, religion, and the motion of glaciers. In optics, he is most famous for his discovery of the phenomenon that came to be known as the Tyndall effect.
Gregorio Weber (1916-1997) - At Cambridge University in England, Gregorio Weber's thesis advisor suggested he study the fluorescence of flavins and flavoproteins, instigating the beginning of a long, successful career that resulted in Weber becoming generally recognized as the founder of modern fluorescence spectroscopy. Among the many groundbreaking feats that Weber achieved in the field of fluorescence was the introduction of fluorescence polarization as a method to study macromolecular dynamics, the creation of the first broadly utilized phase-modulation fluorometer, and the presentation of the first report regarding the classical technique of measuring the absolute quantum yield of fluorescence.
Charles Wheatstone (1802-1875) - Charles Wheatstone was a prominent nineteenth century physicist who made significant contributions to a number of areas without having ever received a formal scientific education. He was particularly influential in the field of optics where he revolutionized contemporary notions of vision and spatial perception. His various studies and experiments led Wheatstone to develop the theory of stereoscopic vision, which involves the idea that each eye sees a slightly different view of a single scene, which combine in a way that results in depth perception. In addition to his work in optics, Wheatstone also designed the first viable telegraph system in conjunction with William Cooke, and measured the velocity of current flow. His other significant contributions in the field of electricity include improvements to the dynamo, the invention of an adjustable resistor known as the rheostat, and popularizing a method of measuring electrical resistance invented by Samuel Christie, which came to be known as the Wheatstone bridge.
Witelo of Silesia (1230-1275) - In the thirteenth century, Witelo wrote an exhaustive ten-volume work on optics entitled Perspectiva that served as the standard text on the subject until the seventeenth century. Witelo's work on optics was so extensive that the first major addendum to it was not undertaken until several centuries later, when Johannes Kepler published Ad Vitellionem Paralipomena, Quibus Astronomiae Pars Optica Traditur (Supplement to Witelo, in Which Is Expounded the Optical Part of Astronomy) in 1604.
William Hyde Wollaston (1766-1828) - Although formally trained as a physician, Wollaston studied and made advances in many scientific fields, including chemistry, physics, botany, crystallography, optics, astronomy and mineralogy. He is particularly noted for originating several inventions in optics, including the Wollaston prism that is fundamentally important to interferometry and differential interference (DIC) contrast microscopy.
Joseph Janvier Woodward (1833-1884) - Lieutenant Colonel Joseph J. Woodward was a brilliant United States army surgeon who greatly advanced the field of photography through the microscope or photomicrography. Although microscopy was still in its infancy, by 1870, Woodward and others had established photomicrography as a means of keeping permanent records of phenomena recorded with optical microscopes. At the time, woodcut engravings were the normal method of producing illustrations, but Woodward was instrumental in advancing optical micrographs to explain various topics such as resolution in fine line gratings and detail in microscopic organisms.
Thomas Young (1773-1829) - Thomas Young was an English physician and a physicist who was responsible for many important theories and discoveries in optics and in human anatomy. His best known work is the wave theory of interference. Young was also responsible for postulating how the receptors in the eye perceive colors. He is credited, along with Hermann Ludwig Ferdinand von Helmholtz, for developing the Young-Helmholtz trichromatic theory.
Carl Zeiss (1816-1888) - Carl Zeiss was a famous German instrument maker who lived during the nineteenth century and founded Carl Zeiss, Inc., one of the world's leading manufacturers of optical microscopes and related equipment. Zeiss was also instrumental in the foundation of the Schott Glass Works through a collaboration with Ernst Abbe and Otto Schott. Today, Zeiss microscopes are renowned for their high optical quality and fine craftsmanship.
Frits Zernike (1888-1966) - Frits Zernike was a Dutch-born German mathematician and physicist who discovered the phase contrast phenomenon and won a Nobel Prize in 1953. As a young man, Zernike was very interested in physics and chemistry. He accumulated a variety of spare equipment with which he would perform numerous experiments. Zernike was also interested in mathematics, astronomy, and photography, and conducted a number of investigations in these areas. He even dabbled in color photography when the field was largely experimental.
Richard Adolph Zsigmondy (1865-1929) - Richard Zsigmondy was an Austrian chemist and professor who invented the ultramicroscope and used the device to make numerous discoveries regarding the nature of colloids. The instrument, completed in 1903, illuminated colloidal particles with an intense beam of light oriented in a position perpendicular to the microscope's optical axis. As particles scattered the incident light, their movements could be seen as flashes against a dark background. His efforts to improve upon the design of the ultramicroscope resulted in the invention of the immersion ultramicroscope in 1913. In 1925, Zsigmondy received the crowning glory of his career when he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his inventions and colloid research.
Nicolas Zucchi (1586-1670) - Nicolas Zucchi was a Jesuit preacher who designed one of the earliest reflecting telescopes in 1616. Zucchi described his reflecting telescope and his invention of it in the treatise Optica philosophia experimentalis et ratione a fundamentis constituta, which was published in the 1650s. The landmark work reportedly influenced James Gregory and Sir Isaac Newton, both of whom built improved reflecting telescopes in the 1660s.
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