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.