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College of Liberal Arts

University of Mississippi

Modern Lighthouse Invention is Topic of January Science Café

Theresa Levitt

Theresa Levitt


The inventor of the modern lighthouse is the focus for a monthly public science forum organized by the University of Mississippi Department of Physics and Astronomy.

The spring semester’s first meeting of the Oxford Science Café is set for 6 p.m. Jan. 21 at Lusa Pastry Cafe, 2305 West Jackson Ave. in Oxford. Theresa Levitt, associate professor of history, will discuss her new book, A Short Bright Flash: Augustin Fresnel and the Invention of the Modern Lighthouse.  Admission is free.

“In 1822, France’s most creative and unconventional physicist, Augustin Fresnel, invented a new lens that transformed not only the way lighthouses operated, but the very possibility of what they could do,” Levitt said. “Previously, lighthouses used metal mirrors and could typically be seen from five to eight miles away, which was not quite far enough for shoals that often stretched up to 10 miles into the sea.”

Levitt’s 30-minute presentation will detail Fresnel’s solution to this problem using an innovative design of glass prisms, his struggle to meet the engineering challenges of the demanding technology and the rise of the golden age of lighthouses. The talk will be followed by a question-and-answer session.

Levitt joined the UM faculty in 2002. A graduate of Harvard University, her research interests are the history of science and France.

For more information about Oxford Science Café programs, visit For more information about the Department of Physics and Astronomy, go to or telephone 662-915-5311.