27 September 2016 A short history of nomograms and tables used for thermal radiation calculations
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Abstract
The theoretical concept of a perfect thermal radiator, the blackbody, was first introduced by the German physicist Gustav Robert Kirchhoff in 1860. By the latter half of the nineteenth century it had become the object of intense theoretical and experimental investigation. While an attempt at trying to theoretically understand the behavior of radiation emitted from a blackbody was undertaken by many eminent physicists of the day, its solution was not found until 1900 when Max Planck put forward his now famous law for thermal radiation. Today, of course, understanding blackbody behavior is vitally important to many fields including infrared systems, illumination, pyrometry, spectroscopy, astronomy, thermal engineering, cryogenics, and meteorology. Mathematically, the form Planck’s law takes is rather cumbersome meaning calculations made with it before the advent of modern computers were rather tedious, dramatically slowing the process of computation. Fortunately, during those early days of the twentieth century researchers quickly realized Planck’s equation, and the various functions closely related to it, readily lend themselves to being given a graphical, mechanical, or numerically tabulated form for their evaluation. The first of these computational aids to appear were tables. These arose shortly after Planck introduced his equation, were produced in the greatest number, and remained unsurpassed in their level of accuracy compared to all other aids made. It was also not long before nomograms designed to aid thermal radiation calculations appeared. Essentially a printed chart and requiring nothing more than a straightedge to use, nomograms were cheap and extremely easy to use. Facilitating instant answers to a range of quantities relating to thermal radiation, a number were produced and the inventiveness displayed in some was quite remarkable. In this paper we consider the historical development of many of the nomograms and tables developed and used by generations of scientists and engineers before their sudden and irrevocable decline shortly after the arrival of affordable digital computers and hand-held electronic calculators during the mid-1970s. This work represents a continuation of our earlier work on a number of radiation slide rules developed and used for thermal radiation calculations, with all three of these computational aids being the subject of a forthcoming book.
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Seán M. Stewart, Seán M. Stewart, R. Barry Johnson, R. Barry Johnson, "A short history of nomograms and tables used for thermal radiation calculations", Proc. SPIE 9947, Current Developments in Lens Design and Optical Engineering XVII, 994706 (27 September 2016); doi: 10.1117/12.2236496; https://doi.org/10.1117/12.2236496
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