Celebrating Ibn Al-Haytham

Remembering the father of modern optics 1000 years on

By Janice Blondeau

The year 2015 marks the 1 000th anniversary since the appearance of the seven volume treatise on optics Kitab al-Manazir written by the Arab scientist Ibn al-Haytham.  Part of the International Year of Light, ‘1001 Inventions and the World of Ibn Al-Haytham’ is an international educational campaign, which celebrates this 10th century science pioneer, known as the “Father of Modern Optics". This is the second in a series of e-tech articles celebrating the International Year of Light. 

Crop picture of Ibn al-Haytham
It is 1 000 years since Arab scientist Ibn al-Haytham wrote the seven-volume treatise on optics, known in English as the Book of Optics

1000th anniversary of the Book of Optics

Al-Haytham’s Kitab al-Manazir (Book of Optics) was written around 1015. Its 1 000th anniversary is listed in the United Nations resolution as a focal point of celebration of the International Year of Light.

Ibn al-Haytham contributed greatly to the understanding of vision, optics and light. His methodology of investigation, using experiments to verify theory shows certain similarities to the modern scientific method.  Through his Book of Optics and its Latin translation (De Aspectibus) Ibn al-Haytham’s ideas influenced European scholars including those of the European Renaissance.

Light and vision understood

He concluded that vision would only take place when a light ray issued from a luminous source or was reflected from such a source before it entered the eye. Ibn al-Haytham is credited with explaining the nature of light and vision, through using a dark chamber he called “Albeit Almuzlim”, which has the Latin translation as the “camera obscura”, the device that forms the basis of photography. Before this, the widely held belief was that the eye created vision.

International Year of Light focal point

The ‘1001 Inventions and the World of Ibn Al-Haytham’ campaign has been produced by 1001 Inventions and King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture in partnership with UNESCO and the International Year of Light 2015 (IYL2015) to celebrate Ibn al-Haytham, promote light science and its applications for humanity. 

Launched at the IYL 2015 Opening Ceremony on 19 January 2015 at UNESCO’s Paris Headquarters, this year-long initiative involves a series of high-profile international events and uses science experiences including interactive exhibits, live shows, workshops, digital content, educational products and teaching resources. The campaign will roll out around the world with the involvement of museums, science festivals, educational institutions, digital and social media platforms. IEC is a partner of the International Year of Light.

IEC at work

In addition to the IEC Technical Committees working in light-related areas that were outlined in the IYL2015 launch e-tech article, numerous other TCs prepare standards that relate to light. TC 100: Audio, video and multimedia systems and equipment, prepares International Standards in the field of audio, video and multimedia systems and equipment, including for digital camera. It conducts extensive work in colour management. TC 76: Optical radiation safety and laser equipment, prepares International Standards for equipment (including systems) incorporating lasers (and light emitting diodes) or intended only for use with lasers.

At work on fibre optics

IEC TC 86: Fibre optics, established in 1984, and its Subcommittees (SCs) are central to the development of the entire sector and all related industries. As of September 2014 they had issued close to 440 publications.

The backbone of today’s telecommunication and broadcast industries – the transmission of information through optic fibre cables ­– is the result of semiconductor lasers capable of converting an electrical signal into light and transmitting that light through fibre optic cables over long distances using repeaters to regenerate the signal if required and optical receivers converting light into electricity at the receiving end.

Fibre optic systems are also found in many other sectors including IT and multimedia (for storage, optical circuit boards and connections), healthcare (for viewing and working inside the body with endoscopes and lasers), test and measurement applications (where optic sensors and fibres measure various parameters and transmit them between devices or back to the sending device in loop tests).

Colour management

Since 1999, the IEC has resolved such issues as defining colour data in terms of perceived colours; defining a common source for all equipment for colour management measuring methods, conditions and data processing; and assessing the overall quality of colour management throughout the communications process.

Several other standardization bodies have collaborated with the IEC to develop colour management standards, namely the ISO Photography and Graphic Technology committees, the ICC, the International Colour Consortium, and the CIE, or Commission Internationale de l’Eclairage.

About 1001 Inventions

1001 Inventions is an award-winning, British-based organization that creates international educational campaigns and engaging transmedia productions aiming to raise awareness of the contributions to science, technology and culture from the Golden Age of Muslim Civilisation.  

IYL2015 blog

The International Year of Light blog is where bloggers from around the world – from high school students to professors to artists and others – are communicating their day-to-day experiences with light in its broadest sense. It also carries a weekly calendar of IYL2015 events from around the world.

Ibn al-Haytham It is 1 000 years since Arab scientist Ibn al-Haytham wrote the seven-volume treatise on optics, known in English as the Book of Optics
In support of Internation Year of Light Logo 1 000th anniversary of the Book of Optics is in the UN resolution of the International Year of Light
 fiber optic networks Since it began 30 years ago, IEC TC 86: Fibre optics and its Subcommittees have issued more than 440 publications