Dr.ir Fokko Jan Dijksterhuis
IAS Fellow at Ustinov College, Durham University (October-December 2013)
Fokko Jan Dijksterhuis is associate professor in the history of science and technology at the University of Twente, Netherlands. He studies the early modern roots of science and technology, in particular the role and meaning of the mathematical sciences. In 2006 he received an NWO/VIDI grant for a project on the cultural history of mathematization in the early modern period, The Uses of Mathematics in the Dutch Republic. He has investigated how various mathematical practices gave shape to early modern society. In 2010 he organized a NIAS-Lorentz workshop Mathematical Life in the Dutch Republic. Recently, his perspective expanded towards early modern cultures of innovation with a particular interest in the way Enlightenment collectioneurs, savants, artists and printers developed new conceptions of light and vision.
Dijksterhuis was trained as an engineer, combining the field of applied mathematics with science and technology studies. After completing his master's degree he became a teacher in senior secondary education. He continued work in the development of educational material and training of teachers when he returned to university to work on a dissertation. He visited the University of Minneapolis to work with Alan Shapiro and participate in the graduate program in the history of science. In 1999 he defended Christiaan Huygens and the Mathematical Science of Optics in the Seventeenth Century (2004), showing how Huygens’s Principle of Wave Propagation developed from his combined interests in optical instruments and the nature of light. After a spell as curator at the Leiden Boerhaave Museum he returned to the University of Twente. Dijksterhuis is member of the department of Science, Technology and Policy Studies (STePS) that aims at understanding the role of science and technology in modern society.
The University of Twente has a strong social science profile and Dijksterhuis is involved in several educational programs that give shape to the university’s motto ‘High Tech Human Touch.' He has been closely involved in the master's program Philosophy of Science, Technology and Society that trains students to analyze the societal embedding of science and technology. He collaborated in developing an interdisciplinary honors program for excellent bachelor students. Recently he has been selected as a staff member of ATLAS, the Academy of Technology and Liberal Arts & Sciences, that will train excellent bachelors to become ‘new engineers’ that are competent in finding technological solutions in societal settings.
Dijksterhuis’s publications range from early modern optical theory and instruments, to humanist mathematics and cultures of mathematization in Golden Age fortification, city planning, and education. His recent research engages with 18th century pursuits of putting natural materials to use, including the manipulation of light with powerful burning lenses and color printing techniques. Such practices gave rise to new languages of light, closely connected to the geometrization of space in Enlightenment mathematics and philosophy, and nicely link up with recent developments like pulse shaped imagining. While at Durham IAS, Fokko Jan Dijksterhuis will develop his research line on 18th century optics, juxtaposing English and continental pursuits. He hopes to benefit from other fields in the IAS ‘Light’ programme, mirroring historical questions to scientific, artistic, and philosophical engagements.
IAS Fellow's Public Lecture - The Matter of Light. Experiments and Experiences in 18th Century Optics
The experimental vigor of the 18th century revealed new and unexpected properties of light. Curious phenomena like luminescence of the vacuum and in organic materials were juxtaposed with burning lenses that cracked metals, airs and even asbestos. People from diverse backgrounds engaged with light: philosophers inquiring into its nature, artists exploring its pictorial uses, entrepreneurs developing new techniques of manufacture. The production of 3-feet burning lenses was just as spectacular at their optical effects. These novel experiences gave rise to new ideas about light, colors and vision. Christiaan Huygens's wave conception of light integrated its action with space, reflecting the pictorial use of light by Rembrandt. Isaac Newton codified the particle conception of light, linking the heterogeneity of light to the colors of bodies. In this way he transformed light into an instrument of substance analysis, an idea that was enthusiastically adopted by 18th-century scholars. Light increasingly became to be understood as a powerful chemical agent and a substance that could be harnassed and manipulated; not unlike recent efforts in optics to control wave fronts and light pulses in order to penetrate tissues, manipulate molecules and employ organic structures. Thus the optical spectacle of the 18th century is an occasion to reflect upon the nature and meaning of light.