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The study of the interaction of electromagnetic waves in the optical range with material systems. The optical range of wavelengths may be taken as the range from about 1 nanometer to about 1 millimeter.
The explanation of the absorption, reflection, scattering, polarization, and dispersion of light by a material medium in terms of the properties of the atoms and molecules making up the medium is the objective of physical optics. In the course of seeking this objective, physicists have found that optical investigations are powerful methods of determining the structures of atoms and molecules and of large systems composed thereof. See Atomic structure and spectra, Crystal optics, Diffraction, Dispersion (radiation), Electromagnetic radiation, Electrooptics, Faraday effect, Fluorescence, Interference of waves, Laser, Light, Magnetooptics, Molecular structure and spectra, Polarized light, Reflection of electromagnetic radiation, Refraction of waves, Scattering of electromagnetic radiation, Spectroscopy