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Robert W. Wood: Wikis


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Robert Williams Wood

Born May 2, 1868
Concord, Massachusetts
Died August 11, 1955
Amityville, New York
Nationality American
Fields physics
Known for optics

Robert Williams Wood (May 2, 1868 – August 11, 1955) was a physicist and inventor. He is often cited as being a pivotal contributor to the field of optics and is best known for giving birth to the so-called "black-light effect". Wood's patents and theoretical work shed much light on the nature and physics of ultra-violet radiation and made possible the myriad of uses of uv-fluorescence which became popular after World War I.



Born in Concord, Massachusetts, Wood attended The Roxbury Latin School with the initial intent of becoming a priest. But he decided to study optics instead when he witnessed a rare glowing aurora one night and believed the effect to be caused by "invisible rays". In his pursuit to find these "invisible rays", Wood studied and earned numerous degrees from Harvard, MIT and the University of Chicago. He taught briefly at the University of Wisconsin and eventually became a full-time professor of "optical physics" at Johns Hopkins University from 1901 until his death.

His wrote many articles on spectroscopy, phosphorescence and diffraction. But it's his work in ultra-violet light that his is most well known for.

Another claim to fame was his debunking of N-rays in 1904. Visiting the discovering laboratory at the behest of the journal Nature, he surreptitiously removed an essential prism from the apparatus. The effect did not vanish, showing that it had always been self-deception.[1]

He discovered that the darkest area of the Moon in ultraviolet light is the Aristarchus Plateau. In 1909, Wood constructed the first practical liquid mirror astronomical telescope, by spinning mercury to form a paraboloidal shape, and investigated its benefits and limitations.[2]

Wood has been described as the "father of both infrared and ultraviolet photography". Though the discovery of electromagnetic radiation beyond the visible spectrum and the development of photographic emulsions capable of recording them pre-date Wood, he was the first intentionally to produce photographs with both infrared and ultraviolet radiation.[3] He developed a filter, Wood's glass, that was opaque to visible light but transparent to ultraviolet and is used in modern-day blacklites. He used it for ultraviolet photography but also suggested its use for secret communication.[4] He was also the first person to photograph ultraviolet fluorescence.[3][4] He also developed a lamp, Wood's lamp, that radiated only ultraviolet. The slightly surreal glowing appearance of foliage in infrared photographs is called the Wood effect.[5]

Illustration and verse from "How to tell the birds from the flowers"

Wood also authored non-technical works. In 1915, Wood co-authored a science fiction novel, The Man Who Rocked the Earth, with Arthur Train[6]; a sequel, The Moon Maker, was published the next year[7]. He also wrote and illustrated two books of children's verse, How to Tell the Birds from the Flowers (1907) and Animal Analogues (1908).

Wood died in Amityville, New York.[8]


  • Rumford Medal of the Royal Society, for his work in physical optics, 1938.[9]
  • Henry Draper Medal of the National Academy of Sciences, for his contributions to astrophysics, 1940.[10]
  • The crater Wood on the far side of the Moon is named after him.[11]
  • Honorary degrees from Berlin University, Clark University, University of Birmingham, and Edinburgh University.[3]
  • Member of the Royal Society, London (foreign), London Optical Society (honorary), Konigliche Akademie der Wissenschatten zu Gottingen (corresponding), Accademia dei Lincei, Rome (foreign), Russian Academy of Science, Leningrad, American National Academy of Science, Academy of Arts and Sciences, Philosophical Society, Physical Society, Royal Institutions, London (honorary), London Physical Society (honorary fellow), Royal Swedish Academy, Stockholm (foreign), Indian Association for Science, Calcutta (foreign).[3]
  • Medal awarded by the Royal Society of Arts for his diffraction process in color photography, 1899.[3]
  • Franklin Institute John Scott medal, awarded by the City of Philadelphia for further progress in diffraction color photos, 1907.[3]
  • J. Traill Taylor medal, awarded for photography by invisible rays, 1910.[3]
  • Gold medal, Societa’ Italiana della Scienze, for general outstanding scientific achievement, 1918.[3]
  • Frederic Ives Medal, awarded by the Optical Society of America for distinguished work in physical optics, 1933.[3]
  • Served as vice-president (1934) and president (1935) of the American Physical Society.[3]


  1. ^ Wood, R.W. (29 September 1904). "The N-Rays". Nature 70 (1822): 530–531. doi:10.1038/070530a0. "After spending three hours or more in witnessing various experiments, I am not only unable to report a single observation which appeared to indicate the existence of the rays, but left with a very firm conviction that the few experimenters who have obtained positive results, have been in some way deluded. A somewhat detailed report of the experiments which were shown to me, together with my own observations, may be of interest to the many physicists who have spent days and weeks in fruitless efforts to repeat the remarkable experiments which have been described in the scientific journals of the past year.".  
  2. ^ Gibson, B. K. (August 1991). "Liquid mirror telescopes: history" (PDF). Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada 85 (4): 158–171.  
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Seabrook (1941)
  4. ^ a b Williams & Williams (2002)
  5. ^ "Wood effect". Dictionary of Film and Digital Photography. Retrieved 2007-08-13.  
  6. ^ Train & Wood (1915)
  7. ^ Train & Wood (1916)
  8. ^ [Anon.] (1980)
  9. ^ "Rumford archive winners 1988 - 1900". The Royal Society. Retrieved 2007-08-13.  
  10. ^ "Awards: Henry Draper Medal". National Academy of Sciences. Retrieved 2007-08-12.  
  11. ^ Cocks, E. E. & Cocks, J. C. (1995). Who's Who on the Moon: A Biographical Dictionary of Lunar Nomenclature. Tudor Publishers. ISBN 0-936389-27-3.  



Works by Wood

About Wood

External links


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