The invention of the maser and the laser toward the end of the 1950s [1, 2] marks the beginning of a revolution in the way we look at light. Until 1960 light was our means to see objects and generate their images. Apart from that the applications of light were limited to some high accuracy measuring procedures in scientific laboratories and a few medical applications.
The laser made for light what the electronic tube, and later the transistor, made for other parts of the electromagnetic radiation spectrum. It provided an organized radiation source in contrast to the natural light sources with their chaotic emission. The so-called coherent character of laser radiation can be compared to natural light as a signal source compares with noise. The organized character of laser light made it possible to harness light to new applications and, within 30 years, light penetrated into all aspects of modern life. Today, light is the main long-distance carrier of information; it plays music and stores information in laser discs; it cuts steel and serves as the surgeon's scalpel; it processes information; it inspects products on the manufacturing line; and it is used in an endless list of other applications.
In view of the wide range of applications for laser radiation, engineers in all disciplines are likely to encounter instruments and systems containing optical equipment. Numerous books are available on various aspects of optics. Some of the classical books emphasize the mathematical rigor and provide extensive theoretical background while others are application oriented with very limited physical groundwork. Other books contain both mathematical rigor and applications but only on a narrow subject area.
The main purpose of this book is to introduce the field of optics to the young scientist and engineer in a way that can serve as a sound and broad basis for applications and further study. This is achieved by using an unconventional approach which simplifies the theoretical discussions, enhances physical insight and enables extensive coverage of diverse subjects in a compact way. Throughout the book the approximations involved in the calculations are emphasized and traced to their physical origin thus clarifying the limitations of the results derived.
© 1999 Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers