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Series of concentric rings, each consisting of a thin part of a simple lens, assembled on a flat surface. G.-L.-L. Buffon (1748) first had the idea of dividing a lens surface into concentric rings to reduce the weight. In 1820 his idea was adopted by Augustin-Jean Fresnel (1788–1827) for the construction of lighthouse lenses. Fresnel lenses have the optical properties of much thicker and heavier lenses. They are used in spotlights, floodlights, railroad and traffic signals, and decorative lights. Some thin Fresnel lenses are molded in plastic, the width of the rings being only a few thousandths of an inch; such lenses are used in cameras and small projectors.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on Fresnel lens, visit Britannica.com.