Archive for the ‘History of Science’ category

Recommended reading: “Streets of the optical scientists”

August 25, 2010

posted by: Damon Diehl

Greg Gbur over at Skulls in the Stars (note its new home at Scientopia) has posted a terrific travelogue of the many streets in Amsterdam that are named for scientists, with a large number of them being optical scientists. Greg and I both did our post-doctoral research with Taco “Yes that’s my real name” Visser at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, and this essay made me nostalgic for that time in my life. Fun trivia: Greg and I also were both physics undergraduates at the University of Chicago, then worked in the same Experimental Particle Physics lab, and then we both attended the University of Rochester for graduate school (albeit in separate departments).

Giants’ Shoulders #22

April 19, 2010

posted by: Damon Diehl

The Giants’ Shoulders (originally organized by a colleague over at Skulls in the Stars) is a monthly event in which bloggers from a variety of disciplines and backgrounds all write about science history on the same day (more or less). It’s always an interesting read, and this month it’s hosted at The Lay Scientist. You can see a list of the articles here.

“Essential Engineering” on Groks Science

April 5, 2010

posted by: Damon Diehl

I just caught an interesting interview with Dr. Henry Petroski over on the Groks Science Radio Show (a quirky show that I loved long before its co-producer, Charles Lee, moved to my undergraduate alma mater). Petroski is a professor of civil engineering over at Duke, and he’s got a new book out entitled Essential Engineering, which deals with why engineering is essential in the modern world, and how engineering is different from basic science. The subtitle of the book is “Why Science Alone Will Not Solve Our Global Problems.” That phrasing may sound critical of basic science, but that certainly isn’t the intent. Rather Petroski is seeking to elevate the importance of engineering in the public eye so that science and engineering are seen as a partnership and not as a hierarchy. In particular he takes issue with the common misconception that engineering is “just applied science.” On the contrary people often engineer a device before the scientific principles underlying it are understood. This is certainly true in optics. For example magnifying lenses have been used for thousands of years (for example Aristophanes mentions a “crystal lens” in his play The Clouds, circa 420 BCE), but the theory of refraction was not described mathematically until around 1000 CE. (As to who first devised the laws of refraction… I’ll let the debate continue to rage on Wikipedia.)

“Ada Lovelace Day” Feature: Hilda Kingslake

March 24, 2010

posted by: Damon Diehl

This is just under the wire, but Greg Gbur over at Skulls in the Stars put up a nice article on women in science that alerted me that today is “Ada Lovelace Day.”  In the words of the Ada Lovelace Day organizers:

Ada Lovelace Day is an international day of blogging (videologging, podcasting, comic drawing etc.!) to draw attention to the achievements of women in technology and science.

Ada Lovelace is widely regarded as the mother of computer programming, as she was the first person to develop a computational algorithm for Charles Babbage’s analytic engine. As it turns out, women have also been a driving force in the field of optics. I would like to take a moment to highlight someone particularly important to Rochester, NY: Hilda Kingslake.

The name “Kingslake” is famous in optics because of Rudolf Kingslake, but, as it turns out, Rudolf actually married into the field. Hilda Conrady, born 1902, was the very first full-time student in the Technical Optics Department of the Royal College of Science, a unit of the Imperial College of Science and Technology in London. Furthermore Hilda was already a second-generation optical scientist, as her father was Alexander Eugen Conrady, a professor of optical design. Rather than recount the story of Hilda and Rudolf Kingslake’s amazing 74 year joint career in optics, I will instead point people to a wonderful memorial written by Brian Thompson for the 75th Anniversary of The Institute of Optics at the University of Rochester. The article is chapter 6 in the book A Jewel in the Crown, edited by Carlos Stroud. (Incidentally, for those considering a career in optics, you may be further tempted by chapter 37, by David Aronstein: “Mmm… Doughnuts“, which traces an Institute of Optics weekly tradition that now spans four decades.)