Light and nothing but

Physical Optics
November 7, 1997

Optics continues to be a field which links basic areas of physics (eg quantum measurement theory, non-linear material response) to the more specifically applied areas (laser machining, communication, etc).

This book on physical optics provides an account of most of the important links between the physical descriptions of light and matter at the semi-classical level. It treats, therefore, a very wide range of physics along with associated optical phenomena. It is reasonably well matched to an advanced undergraduate/beginning postgraduate course on optics that includes laser physics and diffractive optics. It does not, as is the custom in undergraduate courses, get into the details of the quantum nature of the radiation field; students of quantum optics should look elsewhere. In what it does treat, it is quite clear and thorough, however.

The authors do a good job in the early chapters of laying the foundations of what is to be covered, while postponing the details to later chapters. Signposting of these details is clearly indicated. Thus, while one is settling into the material, one's attention is also directed to the overall plan, so that one is able to see the connections that the authors wish to convey. By providing references to the fully developed treatments, the authors let readers know what they feel is important and provide links for anyone wishing to go straight to the details of the topic.

The explanations are pleasant blends of theoretical and experimental concerns. For most of the topics covered, theoretical developments are given alongside experimental motivations for being interested in the problem.

Equations are, for the most part, not abstracted from their connection with the laboratory, a method that is necessary to hold the interest of many students.

The development of each major idea proceeds from as close to first principles as possible. The style is thus more pedagogic than that of simply presenting a result and then attempting to justify it.

The book's notation is perhaps not the one best suited for a western audience; for example, the authors use "rot" in vector equations. In addition, SI units might have been preferable to the Gaussian units chosen by the authors.

The most noticeable lack is of exercises. Though the development includes examples for the benefit of the first-time learner, exercises would have formed a useful part of the process.

Later chapters are written with minimal dependence on the specific results of previous chapters, so that if one chooses to skip ahead the reading can be done without confusion. Back references are as clear as the forward ones in early chapters. This is an aid not only to someone who may not want to read the entire book, but also to the instructor trying to design a course that may not be able to cover the entire book.

The book is full of diagrams and graphs, making the learning process that much easier for someone reading outside of a class. Most of the diagrams that one would expect to see during a classroom lecture on this material, are in the text. We feel, therefore, that this is a useful addition to the range of available texts.

Scot Shaw is a visiting student and Keith Burnett is professor of physics, University of Oxford.

Physical Optics

Author - S.A. Akhmanov and S. Yu Nikitin
ISBN - 0 19 851795 5
Publisher - Clarendon Press, Oxford
Price - £62.50
Pages - 488

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