An unconvincing transformation? Michelson's interferential spectroscopy

Nuncius 18 ( 2):803-823 (2003)
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Abstract

Albert Abraham Michelson (1852-1931), the American optical physicist best known for his precise determination of the velocity of light and for his experiments concerning aether drift, is less often acknowledged as the creator of new spectroscopic instrumentation and new spectroscopies. He devised a new method of light analysis relying upon his favourite instrument – a particular configuration of optical interferometer – and published investigations of spectral line separation, Doppler-broadening and simple high-resolution spectra (1887-1898). Contemporaries did not pursue his method. Michelson himself discarded the technique by the end of the decade, promoting a new device, the ‘echelon spectroscope’, as a superior instrument. High-resolution spectroscopy was taken up by others at the turn of the century using the echelon, Fabry-Pérot etalon and similar instruments. Michelson’s ‘Light Wave Analysis’ was largely forgotten, but was rediscovered c1950 and developed over the following three decades into a technique rechristened ‘Fourier transform spectroscopy’. This paper presents Michelson’s interferometric work as a continuum of personal interests and historical context as an example of 'research technology' and 'peripheral science'.

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Sean F. Johnston
University of Glasgow

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