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Serge Harroch's book "The Light": Photons Strike an Atom

Serge Harroch’s book “The Light”: Photons Strike an Atom

DrHungarian science historian Karoli Simonyi says in his wonderful book “The Cultural History of Physics” that knowledge of light at the beginning of the seventeenth century was essentially the same as that summarized by Ptolemy and then supplemented and developed by Ibn al-Haytham.” The fact that this would suddenly change soon afterwards is mainly due to to the discovery of the telescope, but also to the development of increasingly accurate clocks.Serge Harroche details this story in his book.The author is a professor at the Collège de France and the École Normale Supérieure (ENS) in Paris and, as an experimental physicist, himself contributed to the understanding of the nature of light That’s why he got 2012 Nobel Prize for Physics excellent. Of course, he is primarily concerned with light as a physical phenomenon, but for Harroch it is also important as a metaphor often used, as in French discourse in the Siècle des Lumières of the Enlightenment. Harroch’s mission is to provide enlightenment.

Before the author delves into the history of the light, he provides an insight into his career. He is now being asked more and more about how he participated in the search for light in the laboratory and in such a successful manner. We learn that he was very fond of astronomy from a young age and was fascinated by mathematical structures, such as the curious number pi, which appears in fields as diverse as engineering and statistics. But as is so often the case, it is chance that decides the extra lifeline.

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The infamous Schrödinger’s cat

As a physics student at ENS in the 1960s, he was fortunate to attend lectures by excellent teachers and researchers who introduced him to the pillars of quantum physics. It is worth mentioning above all to Claude Cohen-Tanduji, who in 1997 was awarded the Nobel prize You should receive. Harrush received his Ph.D. from it in 1971.


Serge Harush: “Light.” story.
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Photo: Klett-Cotta Verlag


In fact, it was the laser, available since about 1960, that drove the research at the ENS Working Group. In the 1950s, two ENS scientists, Alfred Kastler and Jan Brussel, developed optical pumping, which is important for the function of lasers, i.e. raising electrons to higher energy levels in an atom. For this Kastler was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1966, and Brossel received nothing; The history of the Nobel Prizes is always the history of those who have been ignored. Unlike today, there was a great deal of freedom in the labs at the time, as Haroche sadly notes later. Working group chairs can focus primarily on research and support rather than on third-party funding.