"Images of Broken Light: Paths to a Law of Refraction in the Early 17th Century"
In a period of forty years, from 1597 to 1637, at least four different European mathematicians independently discovered the mathematical law underlying the refraction of light: Thomas Harriot, Willebrord Snel, Claude Mydorge, and Rene Descartes. Others, such as Johannes Kepler, came very close to the same discovery. But what did they believe they had found? We think of the law of refraction as one of the earliest mathematical laws of nature known in modern science - but did its discoverers think of it in law-like terms? And how did they each converge on this same result?
Robert is an Associate Professor in the Program of Liberal Studies and concurrent Associate Professor of History. He is Director of the John J. Reilly Center for Science, Technology, and Values as well as Director of Graduate Studies for the History, Philosophy, and Science Ph.D. program.
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