Thomas Young’s investigations in gradient-index optics

Atchison, David A. & Charman, W. Neil (2011) Thomas Young’s investigations in gradient-index optics. Optometry and Vision Science, 88(5), E580-E584.

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Purpose: James Clerk Maxwell is usually recognized as being the first, in 1854, to consider using inhomogeneous media in optical systems. However, some fifty years earlier Thomas Young, stimulated by his interest in the optics of the eye and accommodation, had already modeled some applications of gradient-index optics. These applications included using an axial gradient to provide spherical aberration-free optics and a spherical gradient to describe the optics of the atmosphere and the eye lens. We evaluated Young’s contributions.

Method: We attempted to derive Young’s equations for axial and spherical refractive index gradients. Raytracing was used to confirm accuracy of formula.

Results: We did not confirm Young’s equation for the axial gradient to provide aberration-free optics, but derived a slightly different equation. We confirmed the correctness of his equations for deviation of rays in a spherical gradient index and for the focal length of a lens with a nucleus of fixed index surrounded by a cortex of reducing index towards the edge. Young claimed that the equation for focal length applied to a lens with part of the constant index nucleus of the sphere removed, such that the loss of focal length was a quarter of the thickness removed, but this is not strictly correct.

Conclusion: Young’s theoretical work in gradient-index optics received no acknowledgement from either his contemporaries or later authors. While his model of the eye lens is not an accurate physiological description of the human lens, with the index reducing least quickly at the edge, it represented a bold attempt to approximate the characteristics of the lens. Thomas Young’s work deserves wider recognition.

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1 citations in Web of Science®

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ID Code: 49191
Item Type: Journal Article
Refereed: Yes
Keywords: aberrations, Thomas Young, ophthalmic optics , historical, gradient index optics, crystalline lens
DOI: 10.1097/OPX.0b013e31821177b2
ISSN: 1538-9235
Subjects: Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > MEDICAL AND HEALTH SCIENCES (110000)
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Health
Current > Institutes > Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation
Current > Schools > School of Optometry & Vision Science
Copyright Owner: Copyright 2011 American Academy of Optometry
Deposited On: 19 Mar 2012 23:58
Last Modified: 06 Jun 2012 18:47

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