Conference news: Jim Al-Khalili


With a day to go before the Ordered Universe conference on Science, Imagination and Wonder, we’re very much looking forward to the public lecture to be given by Professor Jim Al-Khalili, On the Shoulders of Giants: Optics before Newton, in the Weston Library, from 17.15 on Tuesday 3rd April:

Many would regard Isaac Newton as the founding father of the field of optics, the study of the nature of light, with his famous book at the beginning the 18th century, but the much older medieval world in the East was full of geniuses who made remarkable discoveries in this subject. For example, a text by the Arab scholar, Ibn al-Haytham, written 1000 years ago, explained for the first time how vision works and even influenced many Renaissance artists half a millennium later. Another, Ibn Sahl, discovered the law of refraction – more than 600 years before the man after whom it is today named: Snell.  Others even used their understanding of light to measure the height of the atmosphere and to give the first correct explanation of rainbows. This is light historical romp will shed new ‘light’ on the field of optics.

In addition we are looking forward to welcoming all of the delegates to Oxford, to a full programme of activities. Momentum has been building for the conference since last year, registrations for papers came in throughout February and March, artwork has been commissioned and gathered. All of which made for a complex process of programme-making, balancing and refining. We’re excited by all of the papers and contributors who have combined in fascinating ways. The exhibition, Light Embodied, is ready, Alexandra Carr’s installation also, posters displayed, papers prepared. It will be a very stimulating week!

Image of the Weston Library courtesy of

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