Michelson A. A. Light waves and their uses (1903)

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Science, when it has to communicate the results of its labor, is under the disadvantage that its language is but little understood. Hence it is that circumlocution is inevitable and repetitions are difficult to avoid. Scientific men are necessarily educated to economize expression so as to condense whole sentences into a single word and a whole chapter into a single sentence. These words and sentences come to be so familiar to the investigator as expressions of summarized work — it may be of years — that only by considerable effort can he remember that to others his ideas need constant explanation and elucidation which lead to inartistic and wearying repetition. To fewT is it given to combine the talent of investigation with the happy faculty of making the subject of their work interesting to others. I do not claim to be one of these fortunate few; and if I am not as successful as I could wish in this respect, I can only beg your indulgence for myself, but not for the subject I have chosen. This, to my mind, is one of the most fascinating, not only of the departments of science, but of human knowledge. If a poet could at the same time be a physicist, he might convey to others the pleasure, the satisfaction, almost the reverence, which the subject inspires. The aesthetic side of the subject is, I confess, by no means the least attractive to me. Especially is its fascination felt in the branch which deals with light, and I hope the day may be near when a Ruskin will be found equal to the description of the beauties of coloring, the exquisite gradations of light and shade, and the intricate wonders of symmetrical



Light Waves and Their Uses

forms and combinations of forms which are encountered at every turn.

Indeed, so strongly do these color phenomena appeal to me that I venture to predict that in the not very distant future there may be a color art analogous to the art of sound — a color music, in which the performer, seated before a literally chromatic scale, can play the colors of the spectrum in any succession or combination, flashing on a screen all possible gradations of color, simultaneously or in any desired succession, producing at will the most delicate and subtle modulations of light and color, or the most gorgeous and startling contrasts and color chords! It seems to me that we have here at least as great a possibility of rendering all the fancies, moods, and emotions of the human mind as in the older art.

These beauties of form and color, so constantly recurring in the varied phenomena of refraction, diffraction, and interference, are, however, only incidentals; and, though a never-failing source of aesthetic delight, must be resolutely ignored if we would perceive the still higher beauties which appeal to the mind, not directly through the senses, but through the reasoning faculty; for what can surpass in beauty the wonderful adaptation of Nature’s means to her ends, and the never-failing rule of law and order which governs even the most apparently irregular and complicated of her manifestations? These laws it is the object of the scientific investigator to discover and apply. In such successful investigation consists at once his keenest delight as well as his highest reward.

It is my purpose to bring before you in the following lectures an outline of a number of investigations which are based on the use of light waves. I trust I may be pardoned for citing, as illustrations of these uses, examples which are taken almost entirely from my own work. I do this because