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Physicist Solves 2,000-Year-Old Optical Problem

Mexican physicist Rafael Gonzalez has found the solution to spherical aberration in optical lenses, solving the 2,000-year-old Wasserman-Wolf problem that Isaac Newton himself could not solve. Newton invented a telescope that solved the chromatic aberration, but not the spherical aberration. PetaPixel reports: Fast forward to 2018 when Hector A. Chaparro-Romo, a doctoral student at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), who had been trying to solve this problem for 3 years, invited Rafael G. Gonzalez-Acuna, a doctoral student from Tec de Monterrey, to help him solve the problem. At first, Gonzalez did not want to devote resources to what he knew to be a millenary, impossible to solve problem. But upon the insistence of Hector Chaparro, he decided to accept the challenge. After months of working on solving the problem, Rafael Gonzalez recalls, “I remember one morning I was making myself a slice of bread with Nutella, when suddenly, I said out loud: Mothers! It is there!” He then ran to his computer and started programming the idea. When he executed the solution and saw that it worked, he says he jumped all over the place. It is unclear whether he finished eating the Nutella bread. Afterwards, the duo ran a simulation and calculated the efficacy with 500 rays, and the resulting average satisfaction for all examples was 99.9999999999%. Which, of course, is great news for gear reviewers on YouTube, as they will still be able to argue about the 0.0000000001% of sharpness difference among lens brands. Their findings were published in the journal Applied Optics. They also published an article in Applied Optics that gives an analytical solution to the Levi-Civita problem formulated in 1900. “The Levi-Civita problem, which has existed without a solution for over a century, was also considered a mythical problem by the specialized community,” reports PetaPixel.

“In this [algebraic] equation we describe how the shape of the second aspherical surface of the given lens should be given a first surface, which is provided by the user, as well as the object-image distance,” explains Gonzalez. “The second surface is such that it corrects all the aberration generated by the first surface, and the spherical aberration is eliminated.”


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