Infrared - History of Infrared Science

History of Infrared Science

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The discovery of infrared radiation is ascribed to William Herschel, the astronomer, in the early 19th century. Herschel published his results in 1800 before the Royal Society of London. Herschel used a prism to refract light from the sun and detected the infrared, beyond the red part of the spectrum, through an increase in the temperature recorded on a thermometer. He was surprised at the result and called them "Calorific Rays". The term 'Infrared' did not appear until late in the 19th century.

Other important dates include:

  • 1737: Émilie du Châtelet predicted what is today known as infrared radiation in Dissertation sur la nature et la propagation du feu.
  • 1835: Macedonio Melloni makes the first thermopile IR detector.
  • 1860: Gustav Kirchhoff formulates the blackbody theorem .
  • 1873: Willoughby Smith discovers the photoconductivity of selenium.
  • 1879: Stefan-Boltzmann law formulated empirically that the power radiated by a blackbody is proportional to .
  • 1880s & 1890s: Lord Rayleigh and Wilhelm Wien both solve part of the blackbody equation, but both solutions are approximations that "blow up" out of their useful ranges. This problem was called the "Ultraviolet catastrophe and Infrared Catastrophe".
  • 1901: Max Planck published the blackbody equation and theorem. He solved the problem by quantizing the allowable energy transitions.
  • 1905: Albert Einstein develops the theory of the photoelectric effect, determining the photon. Also William Coblentz in spectroscopy and radiometry.
  • 1917: Theodore Case develops thallous sulfide detector; British develop the first infra-red search and track (IRST) in World War I and detect aircraft at a range of one mile (1.6 km).
  • 1935: Lead salts - early missile guidance in World War II.
  • 1938: Teau Ta - predicted that the pyroelectric effect could be used to detect infrared radiation.
  • 1945: The Zielgerät 1229 "Vampir" infrared weapon system is introduced, as the first man portable infrared device to be used in a military application.
  • 1952: H. Welker discovers InSb.
  • 1950s: Paul Kruse (at Honeywell) and Texas Instruments form infrared images before 1955.
  • 1950s and 1960s: Nomenclature and radiometric units defined by Fred Nicodemenus, G.J. Zissis and R. Clark, Robert Clark Jones defines D*.
  • 1958: W.D. Lawson (Royal Radar Establishment in Malvern) discovers IR detection properties of HgCdTe.
  • 1958: Falcon & Sidewinder missiles developed using infrared and the first textbook on infrared sensors appears by Paul Kruse, et al.
  • 1961: J. Cooper demonstrated pyroelectric detection.
  • 1962: Kruse and ? Rodat advance HgCdTe; Signal Element and Linear Arrays available.
  • 1964: W.G. Evans discovers infrared thermoreceptors in a pyrophile beetle
  • 1965: First IR Handbook; first commercial imagers (Barnes, Agema {now part of FLIR Systems Inc.}; Richard Hudson's landmark text; F4 TRAM FLIR by Hughes; phenomenology pioneered by Fred Simmons and A.T. Stair; U.S. Army's night vision lab formed (now Night Vision and Electronic Sensors Directorate (NVESD), and Rachets develops detection, recognition and identification modeling there.
  • 1970: Willard Boyle & George E. Smith propose CCD at Bell Labs for picture phone.
  • 1972: Common module program started by NVESD.
  • 1978: Infrared imaging astronomy comes of age, observatories planned, IRTF on Mauna Kea opened; 32 by 32 and 64 by 64 arrays are produced in InSb, HgCdTe and other materials.


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