Optics is the study of light. The Ibn Sahl Corner for Optics is the recently grown niche for optical studies inside the Physlab. I call it “grown” because these experiments have been gradually built over many years and adapted through many cycles of improvement. These are not capsule black-boxes which are opaque to the experimenter’s imaginative curiosity, but open assemblies of optical components, light sources and detectors that invite students to ingeniously craft new designs and quantitatively observe optical phenomena. Through these experiments, students can learn about lasers, detectors, and various optical phenomena and all of these are investigated in rigorous, quantitative fashion. There is also an air of liberation with these experiments, as we encourage our students to explore uncharted territories.

We are currently in the process of adding a quantum twist to these experiments, dabbling with quantum light sources and the baffling properties of quantum mechanics.

I was lucky that a few months ago I was able to garner interest and support from a team of brilliant students from the University of Engineering and Technology, Lahore (Hamza, Mah Para, Zahra and Faizan) who worked with me day and night to fine-tune and improve my earlier versions. I also like to acknowledge support from my former students Almadar and colleague Rabia Salman.

The niche is named after the illustrious and relatively little known experimental physicist Ibn Sahl (died ca. 1000) who was ahead of his times; formulating the principles of light bending across interfaces and inventing several optical instruments. He flourished even before the prodigy Ibn Al Haitham. Ibn Sahl’s biography written by Professor Khadim Hashmi can be found here. (Uploaded by permission.)

What keeps me motivated about carving my own experiments and instruments is Omar Khayyam’s quartet:

گر بر فلکم دست بدی چون یزدان

برداشتمی من این فلک را ز میان

از نو فلکی دگر چنان ساختمی

کازاده بکام دل رسیدی آسان

whose translation provided by Edward Fitzgerald reads:

“Ah Love! Could Thou and I with Fate conspire?

To grasp the sorry state of things entire,

Would not we shatter it to bits, and then,

remold it nearer to the heart’s desire!”

This couplet underscores the desire to create a new world, which is the creator’s own world. This craftsmanship can be easily broken, is dearer to the heart and can be customized for versatile applications. Our own Ghalib, purportedly translates this into simple Urdu:

اور بازار سے لے آئے، اگر ٹوٹ گیا

ساغرِ جم سے مِرا جامِ سفال اچھا ہے

Now back to the physics. Like my other initiatives, you are free to reproduce these experiments and reuse the material you find in these pages. But please attribute and share-alike.

Here is a simple method of determining the polarization of a laser beam. Given below are the experiments currently being offered in the Ibn Sahl Corner for Optics.

Think-aloud activities