October 2013

The KH-9 Hexagon satellite. Illustration by Trevor Johnston.

Spy in the Sky: The KH-9 Hexagon

Phil Pressel

The United States’ KH-9 Hexagon was arguably the most complicated film-based reconnaissance satellite ever put into orbit. Nearly a quarter century after its final launch, camera-designer Phil Pressel shares the no-longer-top-secret details of the mission.

Optical Standoff Detection: Eliminating Threats at a Distance

Chemical and explosive warfare has grown increasingly sophisticated with the decades. Researchers are exploring high-tech optical methods to detect threats at a safe distance—but their battle has just begun.

Bohr, Heisenberg and the Atomic Bomb

The relationship between Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg was irrevocably changed by the Second World War. Their story highlights the ethical complexities—and heavy burdens—that can come with being a scientist.

The Mystery of the Birefringent Butterfly

The crown jewel of a collection of classroom materials at the University of Arizona’s College of Optical Sciences is a transparent butterfly slide that bursts into color when viewed through cross polarizers. Who is responsible for this striking work of art?

How to Work More Efficiently

What Sparks Your Creativity?

Optics at Shenzhen University

Indirect Lighting in 3-D Video Games


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