Photons and Bits

Course description:

Photons feed the stream of bits that run in the intercontinental optical fiber backbones supporting Internet. Photons and bit have their conceptual roots in the last century, their fathers being Planck and Shannon. Planck introduced the photon concept by solving the black-body radiation problem. Shannon introduced the bit by proposing the mathematical theory of the communications. Both the theories are still valid and still continue to produce relevant results. Both, Planck and Shannon, originated their theory from the common concepts of entropy and mechanical statistics.

The course is aimed to provide detailed view of origin of these two fundamental concepts of our age in order to understand, from the past, what lies ahead for the future.

The Course can be attended by students with a basic background in mathematics and physics. The student must above all be motivated by curiosity and interest in the history of scientific thought. The specific preparation of the student will allow to better appreciate certain topics of the course and will be used to develop insights for the final test.


  • At the fundaments of the thermodynamics: Sadi Carnot
  • The Entropy and the black-body radiation problem
  • The Planck law: its derivation and its validity
  • Nyquist and Harthley and the shaping of the information concept
  • Shannon and the information theory
  • The Brillouin contribute to the information understanding
  • The Jaynes synthesis


Risorsa bibliografica obbligatoriaT.S. Kunh, Black-body theory and the quantum discontinuity, 1894-1912, Editor: The University of Chicago Press, Year: 1978
Risorsa bibliografica facoltativaS. Carnot, Reflexions sur la puissance motrice du feu (Paris, 1824)
Risorsa bibliografica facoltativaM. Planck, The theory of heat radiation-primary source edition (Berlin 1912).
Risorsa bibliografica facoltativaC.E. Shannon, Collected Papers, Editor: IEEE Pess, Year: 1993
Risorsa bibliografica facoltativaL. Brillouin, Science and Information Theory, Editor: Academic Press, Year: 1956
Risorsa bibliografica facoltativaA. Katz, Principles of statistical mechanics, Editor: W.H. Freeman and Company, (San Francisco, 1967)
Risorsa bibliografica facoltativaH. Reiss, Methods of thermodynamics, Editor: Blaisdell Publishing Company (Newe York, 1965)
Risorsa bibliografica facoltativaW.T. Grandy, Entropy and the Time evolution of Macroscopic Systems, Editor: Oxford Science Publ. (2008)
Policom is a research group of Politecnico di Milano, Dipartimento di Elettronica, Informazione e Bioingegneria (DEIB).

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