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How the Ray Gun Got Its Zap: Odd Excursions into Optics

Popular Science
  • A collection of short, fun essays on unusual topics in optics
  • Covers pop culture, history, and science
  • Analyzes the public perception of optics, and the way it is depicted in fiction, movies, and comic books

By: Stephen Wilk(Author)

263 pages, 5 b/w illustrations, 2 tables

Oxford University Press USA

Hardback | Nov 2013 | #208397 | ISBN-13: 9780199948017
Availability: Usually dispatched within 5 days Details
NHBS Price: £18.99 $24/€21 approx

About this book

How the Ray Gun Got Its Zap is a collection of essays that discusses odd and unusual topics in optics. Though optics is a fairly specialized branch of physics, How the Ray Gun Got Its Zap extracts from the discipline topics that are particularly interesting, mysterious, culturally relevant, or accessible. The essays all first appeared, in abbreviated form, in Optics and Photonics News and in The Spectrograph; the author has updated and expanded upon each of them for How the Ray Gun Got Its Zap.

How the Ray Gun Got Its Zap is divided into three thematic sections: History, Weird Science, and Pop Culture. Chapters will discuss surprising uses of optics in classics and early astronomy; explain why we think of the sun as yellow when it is actually white; present how the laser is used in popular film; and profile the eccentric scientists who contributed to optics. The essays are short and entertaining, and can be read in any order. How the Ray Gun Got Its Zap should appeal to general audiences interested in optics or physics more generally, as well as members of the scientific community who are curious about optics phenomena.



I. History
1.) Ancient Optics - Magnification Without Lenses
2.) The Solar Weapon of Archimedes
3.) Claudius Ptolemy's Law of Refraction
4.) Antonio de Ulloa's Mystery
5.) The Miracle of St. Gascoigne
6.) Rays of the Sun
7.) Roy G. Biv
8.) George Christoph Lichtenberg
9.) Hopkinson's Silk Handkerchief
10.) First Light - Thomas Melville and the Beginnings of Spectroscopy
11.) Mediocrity and Illumination
12.) Even If You Can't Draw a Straight Line
13.) A Sea Change
14.) Thomas Pearsall and the Ultraviolet
15.) If at First You Don't Succeed
16.) More than a Burner
17.) Apply Light Pressure
18.) Sound Movies, the World's Fair, and Stellar Spectroscopy
19.) Deja vu
20.) The Magic Lantern of Omar Khayyam

II. Weird Science
21.) The Yellow Sun Paradox
22.) Once in a Blue Moon
23.) Chromatic Dispersions
24.) The Eye in the Spiral
25.) Retroreflectors
26.) Yes, I was Right! It is Obvious!
27.) Edible Lasers
28.) Pyrotechnic Lasers
29.) Defunct Lasers
30.) The Phantom Laser
31.) The Case of the Oily Mirrors; A Locked Room mystery
32.) Pinhole Glasses
33.) Undulations

III. Pop Culture
34.) This is Your Cat on Lasers
35.) Dord
36.) Zap!
37.) Mystic Cameras
38.) Playing With Light
39.) I Must Find That Tractor Beam
40.) The Rise and Fall and Rise of the Starbow
41.) Diamonds in the Dark
42.) A Popular History of the Laser
43.) Pop Culture Errors in Optics
44.) Pop Spectrum
45.) The Telephote


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Stephen Wilk is a contributing editor for the Optical Society of America and the author of Medusa: Solving the Mystery of the Gorgon (OUP; 2000). He holds a Ph.D. in Physics and has worked on Laser Propulsion and High Energy Lasers at Textron and MIT's Lincoln Labs, and has designed and built optical apparatus at Optikos Corporation, Cognex, and AOtec. He was previously a visiting professor at Tufts and a visiting scientist at MIT.

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