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  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: June 2012

4 - Fourier theory


J. B. J. Fourier (1768–1830), applied mathematician and Egyptologist, was one of the great French scientists working at the time of Napoleon. Today, he is best remembered for the Fourier series method, which he invented for representation of any periodic function as a sum of discrete sinusoidal harmonics of its fundamental frequency. By extrapolation, his name is also attached to Fourier transforms or Fourier integrals, which allow almost any function to be represented in terms of an integral of sinusoidal functions over a continuous range of frequencies. Fourier methods have applications in almost every field of science and engineering. Since optics deals with wave phenomena, the use of Fourier series and transforms to analyze them has been particularly fruitful. For this reason, we shall devote this chapter to a discussion of the major points of Fourier theory, hoping to make the main ideas sufficiently clear in order to provide a ‘language’ in which many of the phenomena in the rest of the book can easily be discussed. More complete discussions, with greater mathematical rigour, can be found in many texts such as Brigham (1988), Walker (1988) and Prestini (2004).

In this chapter we shall learn:

what is a Fourier series;

about real and complex representation of the Fourier coefficients, and how they are calculated;

how the Fourier coefficients are related to the symmetry of the function;

how to represent the coefficients as a discrete spectrum in reciprocal, or wave-vector, space;


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