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The Optics of Life: A Biologist's Guide to Light in Nature

Popular Science

By: Sonke Johnsen

336 pages, 8 colour plates, 24 b/w photos, 90 b/w illustrations, 7 tables

Princeton University Press

Paperback | Jan 2012 | #195118 | ISBN-13: 9780691139913
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NHBS Price: £30.95 $38/€35 approx
Hardback | Jan 2012 | #195119 | ISBN-13: 9780691139906
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About this book

Optics--a field of physics focusing on the study of light--is also central to many areas of biology, including vision, ecology, botany, animal behavior, neurobiology, and molecular biology. "The Optics of Life" introduces the fundamentals of optics to biologists and nonphysicists, giving them the tools they need to successfully incorporate optical measurements and principles into their research. Snke Johnsen starts with the basics, describing the properties of light and the units and geometry of measurement. He then explores how light is created and propagates and how it interacts with matter, covering topics such as absorption, scattering, fluorescence, and polarization. Johnsen also provides a tutorial on how to measure light as well as an informative discussion of quantum mechanics.

"The Optics of Life" features a host of examples drawn from nature and everyday life, and several appendixes that offer further practical guidance for researchers. This concise book uses a minimum of equations and jargon, explaining the basic physics of light in a succinct and lively manner. It is the essential primer for working biologists and for anyone seeking an accessible introduction to optics.

This book provides just about everything one needs to know about biological optics, from the nature of light and its transmission to intensity, color, and polarization properties and their consequences. It is informal yet detailed, and will be easily accessible to anyone interested in biological optics, environmental optics, and animal or human vision. I highly recommend it.
- John A. Endler, professor of sensory ecology and evolution, Deakin University

"'The Optics of Life' provides a user-friendly introduction to the physics and measurement of light. From plant physiologists working on photosynthesis to visual scientists stimulating eyes with light, many biologists will benefit greatly from the wisdom and insight provided in this book. The Optics of Life is a major contribution to the field, and will no doubt become a classic."
- Eric Warrant, Lund University, Sweden

"This is a gem of a book. It's the one I wish I had when I was starting out in photoecology--it would have saved me a lot of pain. The style is very entertaining and the material is wonderfully practical and down-to-earth. Every biologist should read it."
- Edith A. Widder, CEO and senior scientist, Ocean Research and Conservation Association

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Sonke Johnsen is associate professor of biology at Duke University.

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