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The Optics of LifeA Biologist's Guide to Light in Nature$
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Sönke Johnsen

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780691139906

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: October 2017

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691139906.001.0001

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(p.1) Chapter One Introduction
The Optics of Life

Sönke Johnsen

Princeton University Press

This introductory chapter provides an overview of light. In particle language, a beam of light is a stream of photons—small massless particles with energy and momentum that travel at high speeds. In wave language, a beam of light is a series of waves of changing electric and magnetic field strength that have phase, amplitude, and wavelength, and—like photons—travel at high speeds. To intuitively describe what light does, one has to jump back and forth between these two interpretations. Sometimes, the results of experiments with light are more easily predicted or intuited using the mathematics and metaphors appropriate to waves; and sometimes the results are better explained using the mathematics and metaphors appropriate to particles.

Keywords:   light, particles, photons, waves, electric field, magnetic field, photons

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