Colloquium: Michael V. Berry

    Thursday, February 13, 2014 - 3:30pm - 5:00pm
    Meinel 307

    "The Singularities of Light: Intensity, Phase, Polarization"


    Geometry dominates modern optics, in which we understand light through its singularities. These are different at different levels of description. The coarsest level is geometrical optics, where the singularities are caustics: focal lines and surfaces: the envelopes of ray families. These singularities of bright light are classified by the mathematics of catastrophe theory. Wave optics smooths these singularities and decorates them with rich and ubiquitous interference patterns. Wave optics also introduces phase, which has its own singularities. These are optical vortices, aka nodes or wavefront dislocations. Geometrically these singularities of dark light are lines in space, or points in the plane. They occur in all types of quantum or classical waves. Incorporating the vector nature of light leads to polarization singularities, also geometrical, describing lines where the polarization is purely circular or linear. As well as representing physics at each level, these optical and wave geometries illustrate the idea of asymptotically emergent phenomena. The levels form a hierarchy, leading to predictions of new phenomena at the quantum level.

    Speaker Bio(s): 

    Michael V. Berry received his Ph.D. in theoretical physics in 1965 from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. Best known for the discovery of the geometric phase (now named after him), he is a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, a fellow of the Royal Institution, a foreign member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences and a foreign member of the National Academy of Sciences. His many awards include the Wolf Prize in Physics from the Wolf Foundation; the Royal Medal of the Royal Society; the Naylor Prize of the London Mathematical Society; the Dirac Medal and prize of the Institute of Physics; the Kapitsa Medal of the Russian Academy of Sciences; the Julius Edgar Lilienfeld Prize of the American Physical Society; and the Polya Prize of the London Mathematical Society. He also shared, with Andrey Geim, the 2000 Ig Nobel Prize in physics for elucidating the physics of flying frogs.