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This story is an amusing example of scientific history which shows that the development of science does not always progress as simply as one might think.

Poisson spot

In 1818, Augustin Fresnel submitted a paper on the theory of diffraction for a competition sponsored by the French Academy. His theory represented light as a wave, as opposed to a bombardment of hard little particles, which was the subject of a debate that lasted since Newton's day. Siméon Poisson, a member of the judging committee for the competition, was very critical of the wave theory of light. Using Fresnel's theory, Poisson deduced the seemingly absurd prediction that a bright spot should appear behind a circular obstruction, a prediction he felt was the last nail in the coffin for Fresnel's theory.

However, Dominique Arago, another member of the judging committee, almost immediately verified the spot experimentally. Fresnel won the competition, and, although it may be more appropriate to call it "the Spot of Arago," the spot goes down in history with the name "Poisson's bright spot" like a curse.

Reference: Optics (2nd edition) by Eugene Hecht


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