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Physics of Light

»What we know is a drop,
what we don’t know is an ocean.«
Isaac Newton


From Euclid to Einstein – from Plato to Planck

Optics bases its science of light on all things visible. It boasts of a long history. Claudius Ptolemy, a Greek scholar in Alexandria, first records his analysis of refration and reflection in the 2nd century.  In the 11th century Alhazen of Basra builds on Ptolemy’s rudimentary findings and invents the magnifying glass. This, in turn, forms the basis for Roger Bacon to explore light phenomena in 13th century Oxford and ultimately leads to the invention of the spectacles. Another concurrent event was the publication of the benchmark work »Perspectiva« by Witelo of Breslau, which in turn was inspired by the works of Keppler.

It is the findings of optics which have equipped the science of astronomy that then in turn revised our worldview. When investigating nature in detail, optics is the first of sciences:  During the 17th century Huygens developed the wave theory of light, in which he explains interferences. His findings stand in opposition to Newton’s particle theory. Since the 20th century wave-particle dualism forms the basis for all optical research.

How has the scientific understanding of light changed through history?


The full spectrum

Light is much more than what we are able to perceive. The world visible to us is comprised of the wavelengths between 380 nm to 780 nm of electro-magnetic radiation. Frequency defines color. Consequently, infrared and ultraviolet is invisible – but nevertheless of use to us just like radio-rays and x-rays. Essentially, wave theory has been documented and proven by phenomena such as interference or diffraction, since the 17th century. At a speed of 299.792.458 m/seconds electro-magnetic waves need an estimated 8 minutes to reach us from the sun.

Dark absorption lines of elements are visible amongst the spectrum of sunlight and stars. Photon-electron-spectroscopes are able to determine the chemical composition of solid matter purely through the medium of light.

During daylight hours we experience light as luminosity – a measurable entity. The intensity of a light source is measured in candela – the luminosity of one candle. This candle emits the so-called light power, which is defined as 1 lumen per dihedral angle. From this we derive the luminance intensity of a room or workspace. This unit is measured in 1-lux derived from the word lux. Lux is the Latin expression for light. The luminance decreases with an increasing distance to the source of light.

What role does light play in Physics today? How does it define light? How is light measured?



Sunglasses are cool, but intimacy is created when you are able to see your own reflection in the eyes of your opponent. The myth of Narcissus tells the story of a man being so much in love with his own mirror image that he literally drowns in his own reflection.

Jealousy inspired by envy of a youthful appearance is the essence of the familiar quote: »mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?«

We are all too familiar with gazing upon our reflection in the bathroom mirror. It is all too easy to forget the magic and power we attribute to the simple pain of glass coted with aluminum. A broken mirror heralds bad luck for years. Old myths tell of the soulless vampire to have no reflection. In many instances a mirror does not reflect the truth: a hall of mirrors shows distortions of ourselves. We encounter a self that is thinner or wider, shorter or taller all depended on the curve of the mirror. The angle of incidence determines the reflection – all governed by the laws of optics. Since the enlightenment, the term ›reflection‹ has become synonymous with scrutinized (reflective) thinking.

LICHTZEIT will utilize mirror-staging, simple magic tricks as well as make use of the latest optical illusions and reflect on it.


Time travel through the means of light

The use of cut quartz crystals for magnification by the Vikings and Arabs was already documented in the 12th century. The 15th century saw the fabrication of translucent glass by Venetian artists. After this, it was only a short step to the first viewing aids. Soon after, opticians experimented with concave and convex lenses and started building telescopes. It was the groundbreaking 8times magnification, which enabled Galileo to discover the moons of Jupiter. It also allowed him to identify individual stars in the Milky Way.
The 19th century witnessed the construction of ever more powerful telescopes. Currently, the biggest is situated in Potsdam, which comprises a 0.8mm lens diameter and a 12.14 mm focal distance. Concave mirrors concentrate light and reflector telescopes utilize light more efficiently. The biggest to date, situated on Mount Graham, a holy place of the Apache, boasts the resolution of a 22.8m mirror. The Hubble Telescope contains a mirror of 2.4 m diameter, a focal distance of 57,6m and two high-resolution 4K photo-sensors. It also benefits from being placed above the ionosphere therefore having no atmospheric light disturbance. Both are capable of studying light sources in unimaginable distances.

Besides the visible light, UV and infrared, modern telescopes are capable of capturing x-and radio rays. They enable us to delve deep into worlds far of ours. They allow us a glimpse into our Universe’s past.

LICHTZEIT wants to illustrate optical laws and astronomical knowledge through a  variety of instruments, comprising of old tools and highly innovative technology.


The world in detail and how it is comprised

In the 17th century opticians aspired to improve the performance of microscopes and they successfully pushed the possible optical magnification up to 50times. The Dutch master Leeuwenhoek, with the use of a precise cut lens, even exceeded this by using precisely cut and curved lenses. He succeeded in achieving a 270times magnification which helped him to discover red blood cells, monads and bacteria. In the 19th century Carl Zeiss, Otto Schrott, and, Ernst Abbe established the foundations for the technically advanced optical industry. Their advancements simultaneously exposed the limitation inherent in the industry. Objects smaller than half a wavelength of visible light (200nm) can no longer be differentiated due to the optical law of diffraction. The latest research on fluorescence microscopes offers a possible solution to this problem. Another alternative, which has been in use since the 1930s, is the use of crosshairs-electron-microscopes. They use a high-voltage electron beam, which travels through a vacuum and is focused through magnetic lenses achieving a resolution of 0,1nm-soon even 0.05 nm moving it into the subatomic range.

LICHTZEIT will document the striving for smaller images and more defined structures and gives visitors the opportunity to explore this fascinating world autonomously.


The theory of everything

Two theories, two formulas, two opposing protagonist that cannot be united. Einstein’s theory of relativity and his famous formula E=mc2 is valid for the complete universe. Yet it is not applicable to the subatomic level. This level is governed by different laws, which are frequently beyond the limits of our imagination. Planck’s radiation laws determine that energy exchange is facilitated through small energy packages, which are comprised of particles, which can no longer be subdivided. The quantum. Further the laws state that a meaningful separation between particle and wave is no longer possible as long as the same object moves either as a particle or object depending on the type of examination. The wave-particle-dualism.

The unification of the two opposing formula (paradox) is the focus of researchers such as Stephen Hawking and has been called: »The Theory of Everything«. It is hoped that this theory will be able to connect all known physical phenomena. The LHC in Geneva is expected to provide significant progress towards the resolution of the problems.

Is there anything faster than light? Or something more mysterious?


The biggest machine in human history.

CERN is the European, large-scale institution for nuclear research situated in Meyrin near Geneva, Switzerland.

At CERN fundamental physical research takes place, but it is most famous for its particle accelerator.  It is comprised, amongst others, of the Super Proton Synchrotron (SPS), which facilitates pre-acceleration and the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) for the actual experiment. The LHC conducts research on the structure of matter by accelerating the particles close to the speed of light and then makes them collide. With the aid of a multitude of sophisticated particle detectors it is possible to reconstruct the ›flight path‹ of particles that were created during the collisions in order to be analyzed. The reconstruction is necessary to determine the properties of the newly created particles. This is achieved by an enormous technical effort and it requires large amounts of energy as well as processing power in order to evaluate the data.

Effectively, it simulates the energy levels existing a trillionth of a second after the big bang.

Will we ever be able to proof dark matter and energy?


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