Long on formulae, short on insight

September 19, 2003

The short title of this book is a trifle misleading. It is true that "the definition of 'photonics' has been broadened in recent years to include nonlinear and quantum optics". Nevertheless, most engineers would not find in this book the topics traditionally implied by "photonics". It is not about fibre-optic communications, or waveguide devices, or fibre-optic-based sensors. The title must be read complete with its strapline. This hefty work by Ralf Menzel concerns the physics of the linear and nonlinear interactions of light with matter.

The 873-page volume comprises a compendium of formulae relating to a wide range of optical phenomena. It covers diverse phenomena such as propagation of Gaussian beams, optical bistability, quantum beat spectroscopy, and mechanisms of many types of laser.

But to achieve coverage of so broad a field, Menzel has had to sacrifice depth for breadth. Most of the formulae and rules are quoted rather than derived from their basic assumptions - dangerous for the inexperienced reader.

Worse, in discussing interaction of radiation with matter, the meanings of "level" and "state" are not clearly differentiated. A treatment of the Einstein coefficients for essentially non-degenerate levels suddenly introduces the oscillator strength for the transition. From this point on it appears to be assumed that levels have an arbitrary ratio of statistical weights (not "multiplicities" as stated) and incorrect conclusions could be drawn.

On a positive note, the book does have an excellent 3-page bibliography.

I would not recommend this book as a course text for graduate engineers or physicists, but I would perhaps recommend it as a handy reference work for experienced practitioners in the field.

Colin Webb is professor of laser physics, University of Oxford.

Photonics: Linear and Nonlinear Interactions of Laser Light and Matter

Author - Ralf Menzel
ISBN - 3 540 67074 2
Publisher - Springer
Price - £65.50
Pages - 873

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