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Seminar: Wednesday, May 6, 2009 at 3:30 p.m.

Joseph F. Mulligan Lecture
Lives and Discoveries of Lord Rayleigh and Gustav Mie
Gergely Dolgos

The talk will introduce Lord Rayleigh and Gustav Mie in order to help us understand their work and character. Their research on light scattering by small objects is crucial to the understanding of radiative processes in the atmosphere, which motivated the joint investigation of the two scientists. Rayleigh worked out the details of light scattering by gases, whereas Mie set the foundation for the study of light scattering by clouds and aerosols.

Rayleigh was a talented theorist, experimenter, leader and administrator. An English landowner in the Victorian era, he had a very stable and prosperous environment. He fully took advantage of his financial situation for the benefit of science and humanity. He was an average student in middle school and developed his math skills by hard work. He always strived for economy, obtaining accurate results with cheap and simple equipment, since he worked from his own money. He touched almost every area of classical physics. The discovery of argon earned him the Nobel Prize and a number of physical phenomena and mathematical methods are named after him. Atmospheric scientists use his truly innovative and accurate results regarding light scattering by gas molecules from 1871. The answer to the fundamental question: “Why is the sky blue?” lies in his work.

A reserved academic genius, Mie led a middle class life in Germany in peaceful and during turbulent times during the first half of the 20th century. Some of his significant contributions are in field theory, general relativity and X-ray diffraction. Mie’s 1908 paper on light scattering by spherical particles (of any size) is a complete work by itself. He applies first principles, documents the computational method and its implementation, reaches numerical results, and successfully compares them to experimental work. His energetic work and studies made him a foremost expert of his day on electricity and magnetism. His textbook on electrodynamics ran into several editions. His computational method for modeling light scattering and absorption by spherical particles is used in atmospheric remote sensing today and it is the foundation and benchmark of more advanced methods for modeling radiative effects of small airborne particles.

Today, Rayleigh and Mie are linked through the importance of their work to atmospheric physics but they were two different men from different circumstances.

Location: Physics Bldg., Room 401