Waves and Grains: Reflections on Light and Learning

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Mark Silverman has seen light perform many wonders. From the marvel of seeing inside cloudy liquids as a result of his own cutting-edge research to reproducing and examining an unusual diffraction pattern first witnessed by Isaac Newton 300 years ago, he has studied aspects of light that have inspired and puzzled humans for hundreds of years. In this book, he draws on his many experiences as an optical and atomic physicist—and on his consummate skills as a teacher and writer about the mysteries of physics—to present a remarkable tour of the world of light. He explores theoretical, experimental, and historical themes, showing a keen eye for curious and neglected corners of the study of light and a fascination with the human side of scientific discovery.

In the course of the book, he covers such questions as how it is possible to achieve magnifications of a millionfold without a single lens or mirror. He asks what all living things have in common that might one day allow the development of a "life-form scanner" like the one in Star Trek. He considers whether more light can reflect from a surface than strikes it, and explores the origin of the strange hyperpolic diffraction pattern Newton originally produced with sunlight and knives. Silverman also discusses his new and ground-breaking experiments to see into murky substances such as fog or blood—a finding with potential applications as diverse as noninvasive medical testing and remote sensing of the environment. His wide-ranging reflections cover virtually all elements of physical optics, including propagation, reflection, refraction, diffraction, interference, polarization, and scattering.

Throughout, Silverman makes extensive reference to both modern research and the original works of giants such as Newton, Fresnel, and Maxwell. In a more personal section about physics and learning, Silverman argues for self-directed learning and discusses the central importance of stimulating scientific curiosity in students. Waves and Grains will encourage a spirit of wonder and inquiry in anyone with scientific interests.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691001135
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 4/13/1998
  • Pages: 440
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Table of Contents

Ch. 1 Introduction: Setting the Agenda 3
Pt. 1 Refraction 7
Ch. 2 Following the Straight and Narrow 9
Ch. 3 How Deep Is the Ocean? How High Is the Sky? Imaging in Stratified Media 17
Pt. 2 Diffraction and Interference 33
Ch. 4 Dark Spots - Bright Spots 35
Ch. 5 Newton's Two-Knife Experiment: The Hyperbolic Enigma 45
Ch. 6 Young's Two-Slit Experiment with Electrons 77
Ch. 7 Pursuing the Invisible: Imaging without Lenses 97
Pt. 3 Polarization 141
Ch. 8 Poles Apart: The Mysteries of Light Polarization 143
Ch. 9 The State of Light 153
Pt. 4 Reflection and Scattering 197
Ch. 10 The Grand Synthesis 199
Ch. 11 New Twists on Reflection 215
Ch. 12 Through a Glass Brightly: "Fresnel Amplification" 261
Ch. 13 A Penetrating Look at Scattered Light 281
Pt. 5 Playing with Waves 337
Ch. 14 Voice of the Dragon 339
Pt. 6 Science and Learning 355
Ch. 15 A Heretical Experiment in Teaching Physics 357
Ch. 16 Why Brazil Nuts Are on Top: Physics and the Art of Writing 389
Ch. 17 What Does It Take ...? 399
Index 407
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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 29, 2002

    Essays in Optics

    Mark P. Silverman's "Waves and Grains", in much the same manner as his treatment of quantum interference in "More Than One Mystery" written a few years earlier, is a series of discrete but interrelated essays on different aspects of optics. The treatment is semi-technical, with analyses of the math supporting the various experiments and their interpretations. Speaking as one with no math background at all and no formal training in physics, I still found this book fascinating and thoroughly enjoyable. Silverman is something of a polymath, with wide-ranging interests, and he succeeds in bringing together concepts from different fields of study in unexpected but very fruitful ways. He surely must be a wonderful classroom teacher; his enthusiasm for his subject matter is contagious, and to say that his use of language in his writing is masterful is an understatement. Formerly a journalist, he is always engaging, and never dry. Throughout, his descriptions are a model of clarity, and the precision of his vocabulary in the simplest nontechnical sentences is awe-inspiring in its elegance. This is not a textbook, but any serious student of physics who doesn't own a copy is missing out on an important book. I got to the final three chapters of this book ("A Heretical Experiment in Teaching Physics", "Why Brazil Nuts Are on Top: Physics and the Art of Writing", and "What Does It Take...?") long after forming my impressions noted above, having first read Silverman's earlier "More Than One Mystery" with just the same amount of pleasure, and was gratified to find my reactions validated here. These chapters are entirely nontechnical discussions of the importance of an understanding of the physical world we inhabit, and better ways of imparting an enthusiasm for learning to students, which in themselves would make this book worthwhile for anyone sharing these interests. Much of this same material is presented for a general readership in his 2002 "A Universe of Atoms, An Atom in the Universe", a revision of the now out-of-print "And Yet It Moves: Strange Systems and Subtle Questions in Physics".

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