Abu Hasan ibn Al-Haitham (965-1040 C.E.) (Part-1)

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Abu Ali Hasan Ibn al-Haitham was one of the most eminent physicists, whose contributions to optics and the scientific methods are outstanding. Known in the West as Alhazen, Ibn al-Haitham was born in 965 C.E. in Basrah, and was educated in Basrah and Baghdad. Thereafter, he went to Egypt, where he was asked to find ways of controlling the flood of the Nile.

Being unsuccessful in this, he feigned madness until the death of Caliph al-Hakim. He also travelled to Spain and, during this period, he had ample time for his scientific pursuits, which included optics, mathematics, physics, medicine and development of scientific methods on each of which he has left several outstanding books.

He made a thorough examination of the passage of light through various media and discovered the laws of refraction. He also carried out the first experiments on the dispersion of light into its constituent colours. His book Kitab-al-Manadhirwas translated into Latin in the Middle Ages, as also his book dealing with the colours of sunset. He dealt at length with the theory of various physical phenomena like shadows, eclipses, the rainbow, and speculated on the physical nature of light. He is the first to  describe accurately the various parts of the eye and give a scientific explanation of the process of vision. He also attempted to explain binocular vision, and gave a correct explanation of the apparent increase in size of the sun and the moon when near the horizon. He is known for the earliest use of the camera obscura. He contradicted Ptolemy's and Euclid's theory of vision that objects are seen by rays of light emanating from the eyes; according to him the rays originate in the object of vision and not in the eye. Through these extensive researches on optics, he has been considered as the father of modern Optics.

The Latin translation of his main work, Kitab-al-Manadhir, exerted a great influence upon Western science e.g. on the work of Roger Bacon and Kepler. It brought about a great progress in experimental methods. His research in catoptrics centred on spherical and parabolic mirrors and spherical aberration. He made the important observation that the ratio between the angle of incidence and refraction does not remain constant and investigated the magnifying power of a lens. His catoptrics contain the important problem known as Alhazen's problem. It comprises drawing lines from two points in the plane of a circle meeting at a point on the circumference and making equal angles with the norrnal at that point. This leads to an equation of the fourth degree.

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