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The Dover Math and Science Newsletter
Engaging. Interactive. Informative.
May 16, 2011
Welcome | New Releases in Math and Science | Einstein and Relativity | Featured Author: Martin Gardner | Author Interview: Ulf Leonhardt
Puzzle Corner: Raymond Smullyan | The Back In Print Program| | Save 20% on Dover Math and Science Books | Contact Us
Author Interview: Dr. Ulf Leonhardt
Dr. Ulf Leonhardt
Ulf Leonhardt is a Wolfson Research Merit Award Holder for the Royal Society of London and currently the Chair in Theoretical Physics at the University of St Andrews in Scotland. He is the co-author together with Thomas Philbin of Geometry and Light: The Science of Invisibility, published by Dover Publications in October 2010.
Dr. Leonhardt recently spoke with Dover's Sponsoring Editor of Math and Science, Rochelle Kronzek, about his life and work. Rochelle has been signing, developing and publishing math and science textbooks, reference works and monographs since 1993.

Rochelle Kronzek: Let's start at the near beginning, shall we? What went into making you- YOU? It's not just anyone that makes invisibility, quantum optics and attempting to photograph shorter light waves at the atomic & subatomic levels their life's work.
Dr. Ulf Leonhardt: Well, I was born at the other side of the world, in a country that no longer exists-- East Germany. My homeland disappeared shortly after the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, when East and West Germany reunified.
Rochelle Kronzek: Tell me what life was like for you in East Germany and what you were like as a child.
Dr. Ulf Leonhardt: I grew up in a strange communist country, but in a very nice family that protected me from the worst. My parents were loving, natural and tolerant, and let me develop as I wished. I am the first academic in my family. My father worked as a professional handball coach at the level of the national league. My mother had multiple sclerosis and never worked, but took care of my brother and me.
East Germany always felt like being in the Matrix, there was something wrong with my world, but I didn't know what. Science and physics became a politically neutral refuge for me.
Rochelle Kronzek: Which fiction or non-fiction books impacted you as a child and as a teenager?
Dr. Ulf Leonhardt: When I was seven years old I read Jules Verne's "The Mysterious Island". It was all about saving the world with technology. Captain Nemo was fighting against the British. It was very old…. from the mid nineteen hundreds but the point of saving the world with technology stayed with me.
Rochelle Kronzek: What other books interested you?
Dr. Ulf Leonhardt: As I got older, I was interested in human nature. I read "The Brothers Karamazov" (Dostoevsky), Goethe's "Faust" play as well as Thomas Mann's "Joseph and His Brothers" and "Dr. Faustus". As an undergraduate at the university, I used to take off one day per week. I took time away from classes and science to go to the library and to read novels…just the one day per week.
Rochelle Kronzek: Ulf, bring the readers from being an undergraduate student to where you actually found your "passion" in quantum optics.
Dr. Ulf Leonhardt: I did my undergraduate work in Jena and spent a year (1987-1988) in Moscow. In Russia, I studied high-energy physics or particle physics. I didn't like it. When I was in Moscow the truth about communism appeared and it became clear what was wrong with the Matrix I grew up in. I left Moscow with no illusions but also with no hope. But only a few months after I returned to East Germany, the Berlin Wall came down.
I did my graduate work in East Berlin at Humboldt University. My doctorial dissertation was on Quantum Optics. I defended it in 1992. I won the Otto Hahn award from the Max Planck Society for my dissertation that provided a year's free study at my choice of any university in the world. I choose to come to Oregon. The University of Oregon is very well known for Optics. There I wrote my first quantum optics book for Cambridge University Press, which is still in print.
After my year in Oregon I had to do my "Habilitation", a German degree required of hopeful candidates for German professorships. I needed to submit a second thesis – my book was that thesis, but I also needed to gain teaching experience. I did this at the University of Ulm, the same town where Albert Einstein was born.
Rochelle Kronzek: Why did you ultimately choose optics?
Dr. Ulf Leonhardt: I studied in Jena, and Jena was the "birthplace" for optics. When I went to Ulm and had to teach a course, I chose to teach a course in "General Relativity", in the birthplace of Einstein! I began looking for the connection between general relativity and optics. I believe that quantum optics is the closest to the foundations of quantum physics. My life's work has been on a trajectory of connecting quantum mechanics, optics and general relativity.
Rochelle Kronzek: Which scientists are your heroes or heroines and why?
Dr. Ulf Leonhardt: Einstein and James Clerk Maxwell have to be two of my favorites. They were both brilliant, gifted scientists but were also nice people. Maxwell was a friendly person to everyone. He didn't isolate himself with his research. Sir Isaac Newton, in contrast, was a nasty and grim person.
Rochelle Kronzek: I understand that congratulations are in order, Ulf. Science, the top journal of science, listed transformation optics - the science of invisibility - among the top ten research insights of the last decade? It was the only one in physics and engineering that made it into the top 10.
Dr. Ulf Leonhardt: I was very surprised to read this and my name in the December 17 issue of Science last year. What a nice Christmas present.
Rochelle Kronzek: Ulf, talk to our Dover readers a little bit about the exhibition that will be at the Royal Society in London for one week beginning on the sixth of July. Isn't the exhibit geared towards children? Who will be attending?
Dr. Ulf Leonhardt: I'd be happy to. The exhibition is open to the public and free. Many school children will come, but also the Fellows of the Royal Society, who are senior professors, and several distinguished guests. Over 100 different research groups from the UK proposed exhibiting their research work for the Royal Society's annual Summer Science Exhibition. We were one of the twenty-one groups chosen to exhibit and demonstrate their work.
Rochelle Kronzek: Ulf, talk to us a little bit about your book, Geometry and Light: The Science of Invisibility. Which classes can your book be used for? Won't it become dated within a short period of time? Please explain.
Dr. Ulf Leonhardt: No, Thomas Philbin and I worked very hard to make this textbook exhaustive and understandable but VERY RELEVANT. It is our belief that this book will be current for a LONG TIME! Books tend to last as long in the future as their topic goes back in the past. Invisibility is a new subject of science, but its roots, the connection between geometry and light, go back exactly a thousand years to Alhazen's Book of Optics written 1011.
Rochelle Kronzek: Ulf, Please tell our readers which chapter(s) they should read to get more familiar and comfortable with this technical material. Why would people choose to read and study from this book when most professors aren't teaching an invisibility course yet?
Dr. Ulf Leonhardt: Professors are not teaching invisibility science, but they are teaching differential geometry, optics and electromagnetism. These can be rather dry subjects despised by students. Our book shows how to make them interesting, alive and part of cutting-edge research, by connecting them to invisibility and other forms of "pure and applied magic". The Prologue in Chapter 1 sketches the ideas of the book for non-experts. Chapter 2 gives the book in a nutshell, but this is a very tough shell - the hardest chapter of the book, because it does not yet use the tools of differential geometry. This comes next. Chapter 3 is a completely self-contained course on differential geometry. Chapter 4 connects geometry with electromagnetism and optics and chapter 5 concludes the book with a firework of applications.
Rochelle Kronzek: Forgive the pun but, what do you "see" down the road in quantum optics research and invisibility. What's in your own future, Ulf? More special exhibits, articles and research on invisibility?
Dr. Ulf Leonhardt: Actually, quite the opposite. I want to make very small things APPEAR rather than disappear at the quantum level. I'm fascinated by and working on ways to look at atomic and subatomic matter. I'm working on the design of imaging systems. I believe that in spite of the well-known "limits of optics" and what can be seen with the naked eye, or with a camera or telescope; I believe that, with "geometry, light and a wee bit of magic", one can make the invisibly small visible.
Rochelle Kronzek: Thank you so much for your enthusiasm and being so down to earth. I can understand what you're talking about and hope that the readers will enjoy this very unusual field of research!

Geometry and Light: The Science of Invisibility
Geometry and Light: The Science of Invisibility
Authors: Ulf Leonhardt, Thomas Philbin
Our Price: $24.95
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Welcome | New Releases in Math and Science | Einstein and Relativity | Featured Author: Martin Gardner | Author Interview: Ulf Leonhardt
Puzzle Corner: Raymond Smullyan | The Back In Print Program| | Save 20% on Dover Math and Science Books | Contact Us