Introducing Discontinuity in Optics: Consolidating Quantum Optics through Textbooks

By Climério Silva Neto

Universidade Federal da Bahia


Optics was shaken up by the invention of Laser and the new technical and theoretical developments of the field that took place in the early 60’s. This resulted in the discontinuity in the field and the consequent creation of a new discipline, quantum optics. However, creation and consolidation of a discipline is a rather complex issue to be viewed simply as the result of technical and theoretical developments. This paper addresses this issue by looking at the textbook Introduction to Quantum Optics, published in 1973 by the Brazilian physicist Herch Moysés Nussenzveig while working at Rochester University, which at the time was one of the major centers of research in optics worldwide. The textbook is based on lectures given at the Brazilian Symposium of Theoretical Physics, held in Rio de Janeiro in 1968 and at the Latin-American School of Physics held in La Plata, Argentina, in 1970. These were the first lectures on quantum optics in Latin America. The textbook defends the importance of Quantum Optics, which during this period (60s and 70s) had come under heavy criticism. Thus it challenges the traditional view that textbooks present only the authorized corpus of the discipline. The purpose of this presentation is to outline the debates in the origin of quantum optics and discuss what role Nussenzveig and his textbook played to consolidate and spread quantum optics over the Americas, and argue why this case can be taken as a representative of what happened in a broader setting.