The Rise of the Wave Theory of Light: Optical Theory and Experiment in the Early Nineteenth Century

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Jed Z. Buchwald presents a new history of the fundamental changes in optical theory at the beginning of the nineteenth century.
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Editorial Reviews

Buchwald (history of science, U. of Toronto) contends, contrary to general assumptions, that a historical distinction exists between the wave theory's physical and mathematical aspects. His analysis begins in the 1810s, before the wave theory was widely accepted. Much of French optics of this period distinguished between the light particle and the optical ray and achieved a number of striking successes. Revising standard interpretations of the wave theory's acceptance, Buchwald argues that this theory became coherent and entirely new only in the work of French physicist Austin Fresnel. The paper edition was cited in the March issue of UPBN. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226078861
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 3/28/1989
  • Edition description: 1
  • Pages: 498
  • Product dimensions: 6.04 (w) x 9.03 (h) x 1.09 (d)

Meet the Author

Jed Z. Buchwald is associate professor in the Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology at the University of Toronto. He is the author of From Maxwell to Microphysics, also published by the University of Chicago Press.

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Table of Contents

Part 1 - Selectionism
1. The Optical Ray
2. The Concept of Polarization
3. Arago and the Discovery of Chromatic Polarization
4. Mobile Polarization
Part 2 - Fresnel, Diffraction, and Polarization
5. Fresnel's Ray Theory of Diffraction
6. Huygen's Principle and the Wave Theory
7. The Puzzle of Polarization
8. Transverse Waves
Part 3 - Controversy and Unification
9. A Case of Mutual Misunderstanding
10. Selectionists and Polarization after 1815
11. Fresnel's Final Unification
12. The Emerging Dominance of the Wave Theory
Name Index
Subject Index

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