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Unit 6

6.4 Refraction, Reflection, and Absorption

6 min readnovember 3, 2020

Saarah Hasan

caroline49234295

Caroline Koffke


AP Physics 2 🧲

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6.4: Refraction, Reflection, and Absorption

When light travels from one medium to another, some of it is transmitted, some is reflected, and some is absorbed.
Reflection—The light bounces off the surface; the reflection of light on a mirrored surface results in the formation of an image.
https://firebasestorage.googleapis.com/v0/b/fiveable-92889.appspot.com/o/images%2F-bN8NDudobr9S.png?alt=media&token=e122e4de-8d9a-4b01-bb8d-e3f16c5255e8

Taken from pxhere.com

Absorption—The light is converted to another form of energy, usually heat (the light disappears as it enters another medium).
https://firebasestorage.googleapis.com/v0/b/fiveable-92889.appspot.com/o/images%2F-n6rrnKpM69sI.png?alt=media&token=1a2341c7-c72e-47a9-8e3d-ff45ecdfa62c

Taken from flickr

Transmission—The light goes right through one medium to another.
Okay, so that was a super brief explanation. Let’s get a bit more in depth. 🧐
https://firebasestorage.googleapis.com/v0/b/fiveable-92889.appspot.com/o/images%2F-jBwCdczP3yUf.png?alt=media&token=bca3cfdd-2cb1-4ff8-9bad-03b8867466e3

Taken from Wikipedia

Reflection and Refraction

Like we mentioned before, light has the ability to seemingly bounce (or reflect) off of a surface. There are two kinds of reflections: specular and diffuse.
Specular—reflections off of a smooth surface; the orientation of the incoming light rays are preserved
Diffuse—reflections off of a rough/uneven surface; the incoming light rays are scattered in different directions.
https://firebasestorage.googleapis.com/v0/b/fiveable-92889.appspot.com/o/images%2F-vangd3NNT9xU.png?alt=media&token=6e785a7a-d4aa-4c2d-b5af-1be743693f60

Taken from Wikimedia Commons

When light hits a smooth, reflecting surface (specular reflection), it reflects at the same angle on the other side of the line perpendicular to the surface.
https://firebasestorage.googleapis.com/v0/b/fiveable-92889.appspot.com/o/images%2F-ScwhwBRMrF2r.png?alt=media&token=8132b596-2cfa-48f6-a526-f82755154e3d

Taken from Wikimedia Commons

https://firebasestorage.googleapis.com/v0/b/fiveable-92889.appspot.com/o/images%2F-y8nCv1Bgr38h.png?alt=media&token=7142d2d8-7b5c-4982-9cec-140aaf8cc424

Taken from Wikipedia

In the image above, the light ray approaching the boundary of another medium is the incident ray, and the light ray leaving it is the reflected ray. At the point where the light ray hits the boundary (the point of incidence), a line perpendicular to the surface can be drawn. This line is known as the normal line, and it divides the angle between the incident ray and reflected ray into two equal angles. The ray that passes through into the new medium is known as the refracted (or transmitted) ray.
The angle between the incident ray and the normal line is the angle of incidence, the angle between the reflected ray and the normal line is the angle of reflection, and lastly, the angle between the refracted ray and the normal line is the angle of refraction.
The law of reflection states that the angle of incidence (θ_iθi​) is equal to the angle of reflection(θ_rθr​).
θ_i=θ_r
https://firebasestorage.googleapis.com/v0/b/fiveable-92889.appspot.com/o/images%2F-ZrevUKjAfLmo.png?alt=media&token=643f7b3e-1337-4d5b-a17e-944171ee40f8

Taken from Wikipedia

Let's expand on the refraction of light.(Here's an interactive)
Just as we mentioned in 6.1, wave speed depends on the medium. When light rays change speed as they travel from one medium to another, the light appears to bend. Refraction is essentially this "bending". However, if there's no change in speed or if the angle of incidence is zero as the light passes from medium to medium, there'll be no refraction.
When light travels from one medium to another and slows down (the angle of refraction is less than the angle of incidence), the light is been refracted towards the normal. When light travels from one medium to another and speeds up (the angle of refraction is larger than the angle of incidence), the light is been refracted away from the normal.
One thing to keep in mind: when light refracts, its frequency doesn't change.
When light travels through a material medium, it gets absorbed and re-emitted, which causes its apparent speed v, to be some fraction of c=3.00*10^8 the speed of light traveling through empty space/vacuum). The reciprocal of this fraction, which essentially describe how fast light travels through the material, is the medium’s index of refraction:
n=c/v
Some things to remember about the index of refraction:
  • n has no units.
  • It’s never less than 1, since light always travels slower in a medium than in a vacuum.
https://firebasestorage.googleapis.com/v0/b/fiveable-92889.appspot.com/o/images%2F-Fd7sQkLfUfc0.png?alt=media&token=508ff57b-6967-4be8-b5fd-569273181c1b
Taken from Wikipedia
The equation that relates the angle of incidence and angle of refraction involves the index of refraction of the incident medium (n_1) and the index of refraction of the refracting medium (n_2​) and is called Snell’s Law:
n_1sinθ_1=n_2sinθ_2
  • If n_2>n_1, θ_2<θ_1 -the ray will refract toward the normal
  • If n_2<n_1, θ_2>θ_1 -the ray will refract away from the normal

Total Internal Reflection

As we mentioned previously, when light is refracted from a medium with a high index of refraction to one that has a lower index of refraction, it refracts away from the normal. As the angle of incidence increases, the angle of refraction becomes larger. When the angle of incidence reaches a critical angle, θ_cθc​, at which the angle of refraction equals 90 degrees, the refracted beam is directed along the surface.
https://firebasestorage.googleapis.com/v0/b/fiveable-92889.appspot.com/o/images%2F-2jEBRJOBeflM.png?alt=media&token=bab7447a-bd4f-40ef-9fdf-79ea40388d9c

Taken from Wikimedia Commons

If the angle of incidence exceeds θc​, there is no angle of refraction. The light will be reflected back into the original medium, a phenomenon called total internal reflection.
The critical angle can be found from the equation:
sinθ_c=n_2/n_1 (n_2<n_1)
If θ_1>θ_c​, then total internal reflection will occur.

Practice Problems:🧩

1. The critical angle of a material is the angle of incidence for which the angle of refraction is:
A) 0°
B) 30°
C) 45°
D) 90°
E) 180
https://firebasestorage.googleapis.com/v0/b/fiveable-92889.appspot.com/o/images%2F-KjQCeTdrGIrD.png?alt=media&token=eea1c562-c047-41c9-93ba-9ecb16f3a55c
2. A beam of light passes from medium 1 to medium 2 to medium as shown in the accompanying figure. What is true about the respective indices of refraction (n_1, n_2, n_3)
A) n_1 > n_2 > n_3
B) n_1 > n_3 > n_2
C) n_2 > n_3 > n_1
D) n_2 > n_1 > n_3
E) n_3 > n_1 > n_2
https://firebasestorage.googleapis.com/v0/b/fiveable-92889.appspot.com/o/images%2F-hBGDu4X1wrNy.png?alt=media&token=8e5d249b-9b6f-4792-9f9a-f750dfacc3f9
​
3. A laser is embedded in a material of index of refraction n. The laser beam emerges from the material and hits a target. See the accompanying figure for the position parameters of the laser and target. The value of n is:
A) 1.4
B) 1.5
C) 2.1
D) 3.5
E) 5.0
4. A wave moves from one medium to a second medium with a different index of refraction. Which of the following wave properties would NEVER change?
A) frequency
B) wavelength
C) speed
D) angle
E) all will change
https://firebasestorage.googleapis.com/v0/b/fiveable-92889.appspot.com/o/images%2F-MQWqZKL1mnv4.png?alt=media&token=271d277d-b9f7-4fe2-812c-c59ffc520241
5. A beam of light passes from medium 1 to medium 2 to medium 3 as shown in the diagram. What may be concluded about the speed of light in each medium?
A) v_3 > v_1 > v_2
B) $_1 > v_2 > v_3
C) $_1 > v_3 < v_2
D) v_2 > v_3 > v_1
E) v_2 > v_1 > v_3
6. Specular reflection occurs whenever light is incident on
A) a smooth surface
B) a rough surface
C) a boundary between high index of refraction and low index of refraction materials
D) a boundary between low index of refraction and high index of refraction materials
E) a boundary between any two transparent substances, regardless of index of refraction

Answers:
  1. D: Definition of critical angle.
  2. D: More–Less dense bend away, Less–More dense bend towards. The more the bend, the bigger the difference in n’s.
  3. B: If you look carefully you can see these are both 3–4–5 triangles and are also the same triangle flipped. The hypotenuse of each is 1.5 m. Using the sides of the triangles, we have sin θ1 = o/h = 0.8/1.5 for the bottom triangle, and sin θ2 = o/h = 1.2/1.5 for the top triangle. Now use n1 sin θ1 = n2 sin θ2 … n1 (0.8/1.5) = (1) (1.2/1.5) … n1 = 1.2/0.8=3/2=1.5
  4. A: Fact for refraction problems
  5. A: More–Less dense bend away, Less–More dense bend towards. The more the bend, the bigger the difference in n’s … this shows that n2 > n1 > n3. More n means less speed so v3 > v1 > v2
  6. A: Fact about specular reflection

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