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There is no information on wiki. Is it known to Newton? It seems that this has not been mentioned in most textbooks.

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Although Kepler was first to study the phenomenon systematically it was known before him, and even used to explain the appearance of rainbow. It was done c. 1300 AD by Al-Farisi, and independently c.1310 AD by Theodoric of Freiberg in De Iride et Radialibus Impressionibus (On the Rainbow and the Impressions Created by Irradiance), and was one of the early examples of combining experimental study with mathematics. Both relied on a relatively early experimental tradition in optics manifested in Ptolemy's Optics (c.150 AD), which reports a series of meticulous experiments to measure refraction from air to water, air to glass, and water to glass, with refracted angles tabulated against incident angles at ten degree intervals from 0° to 80°. Ptolemy's work was expanded upon by Alhazen in Book of Optics (c.1000 AD), which was the main inspiration for Theodoric's and Al-Farisi's experimental approach.

Here is from The Cambridge History of Science: Volume 2, Medieval Science:"In one of the most remarkable experimental investigations of the Middle Ages Theodoric projected rays of light through crystalline spheres and water filled flasks meant to simulate the passage of sunlight through a drop of moisture in a rain cloud. He concluded that the primary bow resulted from refraction as a solar ray entered the raindrop, an internal reflection at the back of the raindrop, and a second refraction as it emerged from the raindrop". This is essentially the modern explanation often attributed to Descartes. It is unclear if Descartes was aware of Theodoric's work, it was "rediscovered" by Venturi in 1814.

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  • $\begingroup$ I have rewritten the Wikipedia article on total internal reflection and included a "History" section. The references to Theodoric and Venturi were helpful — but not because of rainbows, which do not involve total reflection. $\endgroup$ Apr 23 '19 at 10:28
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For Early Modern Science we can find some sources into:

See also page 111:

Although Descartes is careful to mark the place for the phenomenon of total reflection, his investigation lacks the systematic approach which characterized Kepler's experimental research.

See also page 319 for reference to Newton's comment that "it was known that at a sufficiently great angle of incidence, the whole of the incident light was reflected back into the glass".


For Kepler Dioptrice (1611), see page 4, Ax.IX and Prop XIII.

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  • $\begingroup$ I have rewritten the Wikipedia article on total internal reflection and included a "History" section. The reference to Sabra was useful. $\endgroup$ Apr 23 '19 at 10:32
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A quick search shows the references on Kepler (1611, the book Dioptrice) http://kepler.nasa.gov/Mission/JohannesKepler/

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  • $\begingroup$ @Mauro ALLEGRANZA: you seem to be right. I removed the reference. $\endgroup$ Mar 6 '16 at 18:33

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