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Thread: Abu Ali Hasan Ibn al-Haitham (Al Hazen)

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    Abu Ali Hasan Ibn al-Haitham (Al Hazen)

    Abu Ali Hasan Ibn al-Haitham (Al Hazen)

    Abu Ali al-Hasan ibn al-Hasan ibn al-Haytham (and known in Europe as Alhacen or Alhazen) was born in Basra in present-day Iraq. He probably died in Cairo, Egypt. During the Islamic Golden Age, Basra was a "key centre of learning", and he was educated there and in Baghdad, the capital of the Abbasid Caliphate, and the focus of the "high point of Islamic civilization". During his time in Iraq, he worked as a civil servant and read many theological and scientific books.

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    One account of his career has him summoned to Egypt by the mercurial Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah, ruler of the Fatimid Caliphate, to regulate the flooding of the Nile, a task requiring an early attempt at building a dam at the present site of the Aswan Dam.After his field work made him aware of the impracticality of this scheme,and fearing the caliph's anger, he feigned madness. He was kept under house arrest from 1011 until al-Hakim's death in 1021. During this time, he wrote his influential Book of Optics.

    Although there are stories that Ibn al-Haytham fled to Syria, ventured into Baghdad later in his life, or was even in Basra when he pretended to be insane, it is certain that he was in Egypt by 1038 at the latest.During his time in Cairo, he became associated with Al-Azhar University, as well the city's "House of Wisdom", known as Dar Al-Hekma (House of Knowledge), which was a library "second in importance" to Baghdad's House of Wisdom.[5] After his house arrest ended, he wrote scores of other treatises on physics, astronomy and mathematics. He later traveled to Islamic Spain. During this period, he had ample time for his scientific pursuits, which included optics, mathematics, physics, medicine, and the development of scientific methods; he left several outstanding books on these subjects.
    Other works on physics

    Ibn al-Haytham wrote several other treatises on optics. His Risala fi l-Daw (Treatise on Light) is a supplement to his Kitab al-Manazir (Book of Optics). The text contained further investigations on the properties of luminance and its radiant dispersion through various transparent and translucent media. He also carried out further examinations into anatomy of the eye and illusions in visual perception. He analyzed the camera obscura and pinhole camera, and investigated the meteorology of the rainbow and the density of the atmosphere. Various celestial phenomena (including the eclipse, twilight, and moonlight) were also examined by him. He also made investigations into refraction, catoptrics, dioptrics, spherical mirrors, and magnifying lenses.

    In his treatise, Mizan al-Hikmah (Balance of Wisdom), Ibn al-Haytham discussed the density of the atmosphere and related it to altitude. He also studied atmospheric refraction. He discovered that the twilight only ceases or begins when the Sun is 19 below the horizon and attempted to measure the height of the atmosphere on that basis.


    In astrophysics and the celestial mechanics field of physics, Ibn al-Haytham, in his Epitome of Astronomy, discovered that the heavenly bodies "were accountable to the laws of physics".[81] Ibn al-Haytham's Mizan al-Hikmah (Balance of Wisdom) covered statics, astrophysics, and celestial mechanics. He discussed the theory of attraction between masses, and it seems that he was also aware of the magnitude of acceleration due to gravity at a distance.[30] His Maqala fi'l-qarastun is a treatise on centres of gravity. Little is known about the work, except for what is known through the later works of al-Khazini in the 12th century. In this treatise, Ibn al-Haytham formulated the theory that the heaviness of bodies varies with their distance from the centre of the Earth.

    Another treatise, Maqala fi daw al-qamar (On the Light of the Moon), which he wrote some time before his famous Book of Optics, was the first successful attempt at combining mathematical astronomy with physics, and the earliest attempt at applying the experimental method to astronomy and astrophysics. He disproved the universally held opinion that the Moon reflects sunlight like a mirror and correctly concluded that it "emits light from those portions of its surface which the sun's light strikes." To prove that "light is emitted from every point of the Moon's illuminated surface," he built an "ingenious experimental device."According to Matthias Schramm, Ibn al-Haytham had

    formulated a clear conception of the relationship between an ideal mathematical model and the complex of observable phenomena; in particular, he was the first to make a systematic use of the method of varying the experimental conditions in a constant and uniform manner, in an experiment showing that the intensity of the light-spot formed by the projection of the moonlight through two small apertures onto a screen diminishes constantly as one of the apertures is gradually blocked up.


    In the dynamics and kinematics fields of mechanics, Ibn al-Haytham's Risala fil-makan (Treatise on Place) discussed theories on the motion of a body. He maintained that a body moves perpetually unless an external force stops it or changes its direction of motion. This was similar to the concept of inertia, but was largely a hypotheses that was not verified by experimentation. The key breakthrough in classical mechanics, the introduction of frictional force, was eventually made centuries later by Galileo Galilei, and then formulated as Newton's first law of motion.

    Also in his Treatise on Place, Ibn al-Haytham disagreed with Aristotle's view that nature abhors a void, and he thus used geometry to demonstrate that place (al-makan) is the imagined three-dimensional void between the inner surfaces of a containing body.

    Ibn al-Haytham also discovered the concept of momentum (now part of Newton's second law of motion) around the same time as his contemporary, Avicenna (Ibn Sina).

    Ibn al-Haytham proved that light travels in straight lines using the scientific method in his Book of Optics

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