^{1} Department of Science Studies, Faculty of Science, Aarhus University, Aarhus University^{2} Department of Mathematics - Science Studies, Department of Mathematics, Science and Technology, Aarhus University^{3} Department of Mathematics - Science Studies, Department of Mathematics, Science and Technology, Aarhus University

Abstract:

Euler's wave theory of light developed from a mere description of this notion based on an analogy between sound and light to a more and more mathematical elaboration on that notion. He was very successful in predicting the shape of achromatic lenses based on a new dispersion law that we now know is wrong. Most of his mathematical arguments were, however, guesswork without any solid physical reasoning. Guesswork is not always a bad thing in physics if it leads to new experiments or makes the theory coherent with other theories. And Euler tried to find such experiments. He saw the construction of achromatic lenses, the explanation of colors of thin plates and of the opaque bodies as proof of his theory. When it came to the fundamental issues, the correctness of his dispersion law and the prediction of frequencies of light he was not at all successful. His wave theory degenerated, and it was not until Augustin Fresnel introduced transverse waves and an elaborate notion of interference that the wave theory again progressed.

Type:

Journal article

Language:

English

Published in:

Perspectives on Science, 2008, Vol 16, Issue 4, p. 392-416

Keywords:

Euler, Leonhard, 1707-1783; Wave theory of Light; Early works to 1800