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# Refraction of Light

Refraction is the phenomenon of light changing its direction as it passes through a medium with a different refractive index. This happens because the speed of light changes when it moves from one medium to another.

• Refraction of Light
• Laws of Refraction of Light
• Examples
• Factors of Refraction of Light
• FAQs

Refraction is the phenomenon of light changing its direction as it passes through a medium with a different refractive index. This happens because the speed of light changes when it moves from one medium to another. When light travels from a medium with a higher refractive index to a medium with a lower refractive index, it bends away from the normal (the line perpendicular to the surface of the interface between the two media) and when light travels from a medium with a lower refractive index to a medium with a higher refractive index, it bends towards the normal.

The amount of bending of light depends on the angle at which it strikes the interface between the two media, as well as the refractive indices of the two media. This bending of light is responsible for many optical phenomena, such as the apparent bending of a pencil in water, the formation of rainbows, and the magnification of images by lenses.

The degree of bending of light at an interface between two media is determined by Snell’s law, which states that the ratio of the sines of the angles of incidence and refraction is equal to the ratio of the refractive indices of the two media. Mathematically, it can be expressed as follows:

n1sinθ1 = n2sinθ2

Where n1 and n2 are the refractive indices of the two media, θ1 is the angle of incidence, and θ2 is the angle of refraction.

## Laws of Refraction of Light

The three laws of refraction, also known as Snell’s law, describe the behavior of light as it passes from one medium to another. These laws were discovered by the Dutch scientist Willebrord Snell in 1621. The three laws are:

The incident ray, the refracted ray, and the normal to the surface at the point of incidence all lie in the same plane.

The ratio of the sine of the angle of incidence to the sine of the angle of refraction is constant for a given pair of media. This is known as the law of sines, and can be expressed as:

sin(i) / sin(r) = n

where i is the angle of incidence, r is the angle of refraction, and n is the refractive index of the second medium with respect to the first medium.

If light is passing from a medium with a lower refractive index to a medium with a higher refractive index, then the angle of refraction is smaller than the angle of incidence.

If the light is passing from a medium with a higher refractive index to a medium with a lower refractive index, then the angle of refraction is larger than the angle of incidence. This is known as the law of refraction or Snell’s law.

These laws explain how light behaves as it passes through different media and can be used to predict the behavior of light in a wide range of situations, from the refraction of light through lenses to the formation of rainbows.

## Examples of Refraction of light

There are many examples of refraction of light in our daily lives, some of which are:

• When a pencil is placed in a glass of water, it appears to be bent at the point where it enters the water due to the refraction of light.
• When light passes through a prism, it is refracted and split into its component colors, creating a rainbow-like effect.
• The lenses in eyeglasses or contact lenses use refraction to correct vision problems by focusing light onto the retina.
• When light passes through a magnifying glass, it is refracted and the image appears larger than it actually is.
• Mirage, which is the optical illusion of water appearing on the road on a hot day, is caused by the refraction of light in the hot air.
• The bending of light as it passes through the Earth’s atmosphere causes the sun to appear higher in the sky than it actually is during sunrise and sunset.
• When light enters our eyes, it is refracted by the cornea and lens before it is focused onto the retina, allowing us to see the world around us.

## Factors of Refraction of Light

Angle of incidence: The angle at which light strikes a surface affects how much it is refracted. The greater the angle of incidence, the greater the refraction. Index of refraction: The index of refraction of a material determines how much light is refracted as it passes through the material. Materials with a higher index of refraction will cause more refraction than those with a lower index of refraction.

Wavelength of light: Different wavelengths of light are refracted at different angles. This is known as dispersion, and is the reason why we see rainbows.

Shape and curvature of the surface: The shape and curvature of the surface that the light passes through will affect how much it is refracted. A curved surface will cause more refraction than a flat surface.

Temperature and pressure: Changes in temperature and pressure can affect the index of refraction of a material, which in turn affects the amount of refraction that occurs.

Density of the material: The density of the material that the light passes through will affect how much it is refracted. Materials with a higher density will cause more refraction than those with a lower density.

Distance travelled: The distance that the light travels through a material also affects how much it is refracted. The greater the distance, the greater the refraction.

These factors can all interact in complex ways, making the behavior of refracted light difficult to predict in some situations.

Angle of Incidence

The angle of incidence is the angle that an incoming ray of light makes with a surface, measured with respect to a line perpendicular to that surface at the point of incidence. In other words, it is the angle between the incident ray and the normal (a line perpendicular to the surface) at the point of incidence.

For example, if you shine a flashlight at a mirror, the angle at which the light beam hits the mirror is the angle of incidence. You can visualize this by drawing a line perpendicular to the mirror where the light hits it, and then measuring the angle between that line and the incoming ray of light.

Another example is when light passes through a prism. The angle of incidence is the angle at which the light enters the prism, measured with respect to the normal to the surface of the prism at the point where the light enters. The angle of incidence affects how much the light is refracted or bent as it passes through the prism, which in turn determines the angle at which the light emerges from the prism.

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## Refraction vs. Reflection of light

1. Refraction and reflection are both ways that light interacts with surfaces, but they are different in several key ways:
2. Reflection is the bouncing back of light from a surface, while refraction is the bending of light as it passes through a medium, such as air or water.
3. Reflection occurs when the angle of incidence is equal to the angle of reflection, meaning that the incoming and outgoing rays of light are at the same angle with respect to the surface. Refraction, on the other hand, occurs when the angle of incidence is different from the angle of refraction.
4. Reflection can occur from any surface, while refraction only occurs when light passes through a medium with a different refractive index than the medium it was previously traveling through.
5. Reflection can produce a clear, sharp image, while refraction can produce distortion or blurring of the image.
6. Reflection can be used to create mirrors, while refraction can be used to create lenses for glasses or cameras.
7. In reflection, the light energy is not absorbed by the surface and is reflected back, while in refraction, some of the light energy may be absorbed by the medium causing it to lose energy.

## Refraction of light in water

Refraction occurs whenever light travels from one medium to another with a different refractive index, and water is a common medium that can cause refraction. Here are some examples of refraction in water:

A fish in water appears to be closer to the surface than it actually is. This is because the light from the fish changes direction as it passes from water (with a higher refractive index) to air (with a lower refractive index).

A straw in a glass of water appears bent when viewed from above the water. This is because the light passing through the water is bent as it passes from water to air, causing the image of the straw to appear shifted.

A swimming pool appears shallower than it actually is when viewed from above the water. This is because the light from the bottom of the pool is refracted as it passes from water to air, causing the image of the bottom of the pool to appear higher than it actually is.

The apparent position of the sun or moon can appear distorted when viewed from underwater. This is because the light from the sun or moon is refracted as it passes from air to water, causing the image to appear shifted.

Diving goggles or snorkeling masks use refraction to allow the wearer to see objects underwater more clearly. The curved shape of the goggles or mask causes the light to refract, allowing the wearer to see objects in a larger field of view than they would be able to without the mask.

## Refraction of Light FAQS

##### What is the refraction of light?

Refraction of light is the bending of light as it passes through a medium with a different refractive index, such as from air to water or from one type of glass to another.

##### What causes refraction of light?

Refraction of light occurs because the speed of light changes as it passes through a medium with a different refractive index. The amount of bending depends on the angle at which the light enters the medium and the refractive indices of the two media.

##### What is the difference between reflection and refraction of light?

Reflection occurs when light bounces off a surface, while refraction occurs when light passes through a medium with a different refractive index and bends.

##### What is the law of refraction?

The law of refraction, also known as Snell’s law, states that the ratio of the sines of the angles of incidence and refraction is equal to the ratio of the refractive indices of the two media. This law describes how light bends as it passes from one medium to another.

##### What is total internal reflection?

Total internal reflection is a phenomenon that occurs when light traveling in a medium with a higher refractive index encounters an interface with a medium of lower refractive index at an angle of incidence greater than the critical angle. In such a scenario, instead of refracting out of the medium, the light is completely reflected back into the higher refractive index medium.The critical angle is the angle of incidence at which the refracted angle of light would be 90 degrees (i.e., it would travel along the interface).

##### What are some examples of refraction of light in everyday life?

Examples of refraction of light in everyday life include the way that objects appear distorted when viewed through a curved lens, the way that a straw appears to bend in a glass of water, and the way that light is dispersed into a rainbow when passing through a prism.

##### How does the refractive index affect the speed of light?

The refractive index of a medium is a measure of how much the speed of light is reduced when it travels through that medium compared to its speed in a vacuum. As light enters a medium with a higher refractive index, its speed decreases and when light enters a medium with lower refractive index its speed increases.

##### Can refraction be used in optical illusions?

Yes, optical illusions can be created using refraction, such as mirages in the desert or the appearance of objects being closer or further away than they actually are. Kathleen Currence is one of the founders of eTutorWorld. Previously a middle school principal in Kansas City School District, she has an MA in Education from the University of Dayton, Ohio. She is a prolific writer, and likes to explain Science topics in student-friendly language. LinkedIn Profile

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