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The History of Classical Optics

Rhys Hanak - February 14, 2019

As an innovator in classical optical design, we believe that it is just as important to know how optics began as it is to know where optics are headed next.

By exploring the history of optics, we hope to not only pay homage to the innovators that came before us, but to provide a better picture of how we plan to make our mark on optical science.

The Beginning Of Optical Science

From Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia to Greece and early modern Europe, the progression of classical optics has spanned much of the world.

It’s a journey that has raised as many scientific queries as it has epistemological ones, leading scientists and ancient scholars alike to question how we perceive the Universe.

The world’s first lenses, which date back as far as 750 BC, are believed to have originated from Assyria and Babylon. It’s worth noting that similar lenses around this timeframe were also discovered in Egypt and Greece.

These crude “lenses” were followed by a proliferation of optical theories, beginning first in ancient Greece. Ptolemy, one of history’s most celebrated Greco-Roman mathematicians, geographers, and astronomers, penned his treatise Optics in the 160s, one of the earliest works to discuss the properties of light.

Although only fragments of a Latin translation of Ptolemy’s Optics have survived to this day, Ptolemy’s Optics served as the basis for Hasan lbn al-Haytham’s (latinized Alhazen) widely influential Book of Optics, an extensive body of work that is thought to have inspired many of the optical developments seen in Western Europe.

Optical science is widely thought to have originated in Ancient Egypt.

For his foundational contribution to optical science, Alhazen has earned himself a number of nicknames—one of the most prestigious being “the father of modern optics”.

Optical Science Advances In Western Europe

Optical science experienced an accelerated period of development at the end of the European Renaissance.

Johannes Kepler, a German astronomer, mathematician, and astrologer who played a significant part in the 17th-century scientific revolution, explored the laws of optics with his lunar essay in 1600. Shortly thereafter, the venerable Dutch innovator Hans Lippershey submitted his patent for the world’s first telescope in 1608—which Galileo Galilei would go on to improve just one year later in 1609.

A little over a decade later in 1621, Willebrord Snellius discovered the mathematical law of refraction (now affectionally referred to as “Snell’s Law”).

Our understanding of refraction and light was then taken one step further by Sir Isaac Newton—arguably one of the most influential scientists of all time—through his demonstration of light refraction through prisms in 1672.

Fast forwarding two centuries of significant contributions to optical science, the tail end of the 1800s marked a pivotal turning point for consumer imaging devices. During the 1880s, renowned German optician and businessman Carl Zeiss modernized the production of lenses. Just a handful of years later in 1888, George Eastman (the founder of a company that would later become Kodak),  was credited with creating the world’s first hand-held camera—an industry redefining invention that paved the way for the modern cameras that we see today, including DoubleTake, our transformative imaging device for the outdoors.

The Generational Impact Of Blade Optics™

From Ptolemy’s Optics to Isaac Newton’s prism experiments, the advancement of optical science has been a group effort. We believe that with Blade Optics™ technology, we can carry on the same world-changing vision that was shared among some of history’s brightest minds—and change how a generation perceives the world.

Rhys Hanak

When I’m not sharing NexOptic’s story with the world, you can find me in the mountains hiking or out on a run.