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The Optics of Life:
A Biologist's Guide to Light in Nature
Sonke Johnsen

One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2012

Paperback | 2011 | $52.50 | £44.95 | ISBN: 9780691139913
368 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4 | 8 color illus. 24 halftones. 90 line illus. 7 tables.
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eBook | ISBN: 9781400840663 |
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Optics--a field of physics focusing on the study of light--is also central to many areas of biology, including vision, ecology, botany, animal behavior, neurobiology, and molecular biology. The Optics of Life introduces the fundamentals of optics to biologists and nonphysicists, giving them the tools they need to successfully incorporate optical measurements and principles into their research. Sönke Johnsen starts with the basics, describing the properties of light and the units and geometry of measurement. He then explores how light is created and propagates and how it interacts with matter, covering topics such as absorption, scattering, fluorescence, and polarization. Johnsen also provides a tutorial on how to measure light as well as an informative discussion of quantum mechanics.

The Optics of Life features a host of examples drawn from nature and everyday life, and several appendixes that offer further practical guidance for researchers. This concise book uses a minimum of equations and jargon, explaining the basic physics of light in a succinct and lively manner. It is the essential primer for working biologists and for anyone seeking an accessible introduction to optics.


"Because of its emphasis on correctly approaching the way physical measurements should be made, The Optics of Life has something to offer anyone whose research directly or tangentially involves light. More than a biologist's guide to light in nature, this book is a guide for any scientist interested in optics and the world around us."--Physics Today

"Johnsen has written an excellent, readable, practical, and greatly entertaining introductory book on light and its applications in the biological sciences, including ecology. . . . Johnsen takes the point of view that some aspects of light are best described using the ideas from wave mechanics while other aspects are best addressed using particle mechanics."--Choice

"This book is written in an entertaining style so it is a pleasure to read. Each chapter starts with a thought-provoking quote, and ends with an amusing and interesting anecdote or reverie. My favorite chapters contain illuminating discussions on scattering, scattering with interference, absorbance, and transparency."--John E. Steffen, Integrative and Comparative Biology

"[V]isual ecology and physiology have become significantly productive subdisciplines in biology. . . . Sönke Johnsen serves as a conduit between these two fields, as he gracefully presents the physical principles of optics in a simplifying manner that makes the reader want to apply new found knowledge to their own research."--John E. Steffen, Integrative and Comparative Biology

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Table of Contents:

Acknowledgments ix

Chapter One Introduction 1
Chapter Two Units and Geometry 8
Chapter Three Emission 31
Chapter Four Absorption 75
Chapter Five Scattering 116
Chapter Six Scattering with Interference 151
Chapter Seven Fluorescence 181
Chapter Eight Polarization 203
Chapter Nine Measuring Light 237
Chapter Ten What Is Light, Really? 271
Appendix A Converting Spectral Irradiance to Lux 287
Appendix B Calculating the Absorbance Spectrum of a Visual Pigment 290
Appendix C?Refractive Indices of Common Substances 292
Appendix D Optical Properties of Very Clear Water 293
Appendix E?Optical Properties of Natural Waters 295
Appendix F?Useful Formulas 297
Appendix G Equipment and Software Suppliers 302
Bibliography 307
Index 319

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