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Optical Engineers

History

The study of the properties of light began during the 1600s when Galileo built telescopes to observe the planets and stars. Scientists, such as Sir Isaac Newton, conducted experiments and studies that contributed to the understanding of light and how it operates. Among Newton's many experiments was his work with prisms that separated sunlight into a spectrum of colors. Christiaan Huygens, a Dutch physicist, also conducted important studies to develop a theory that concerned the wave properties of light.

During the 1800s, other physicists and scientists performed research that confirmed Huygens's theory and advanced the study of light even further. By the mid-1800s, scientists were able to measure the speed of light and had developed means to show how color bands of the light spectrum were created by atoms of chemical elements. In 1864, a British physicist, James C. Maxwell, proposed the electromagnetic theory of light.

Two of the most important discoveries of the 20th century were the development of lasers and fiber optics.The first laser was built by an American physicist, Theodore H. Maiman, in 1960. In 1966, it was discovered that light could travel through glass fibers, which led to the development of fiber optic technology.

Optics, the branch of science that studies the manipulation of light, is a growing field. Engineers today work in applications that include image processing, information processing, wireless communications, electronic technology (including compact disc players, high-definition televisions, and laser printers), astronomical observation, atomic research, robotics, military surveillance, water-quality monitoring, undersea monitoring, and medical and scientific procedures and instruments.

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