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1. Definition of refraction.

A wave reaches the boundary between two media at an angle and changes direction as it passes
into the second medium

.
Refraction is caused by the difference in the speed of the wave in the two media.
The definition then is the change in direction of light as it passes from one material to another at
some angle measured from the normal.
How do waves change direction as they travel from one medium to another?
a. If a wave travels from a less dense material to a more dense material the wave will bend
towards the normal.
b. If a wave travels from a more dense material to a less dense material the wave will bend away
from the normal.

2. Why is it easier to hear sounds across a lake at night as compared to day?


a. Sound waves are refracted when parts of a wave front travel at different speeds.
b. On a warm day the air is warmer near the ground. Sound travels faster through warm air. The
sound waves tend to bend away from the ground, making it appear that the sound does not carry
well.
c. At night, when the air is cooler over the surface of the lake, sound travels slower and is
refracted toward the ground and carries unusually well.

3. How is a mirage formed?


a. This is the phenomenon of the refraction of light through the earth's atmosphere.
b. On hot days there can exist a hot layer of air in contact with the ground.
c. The light travels faster through the hot air than the cold air it bends much like the sound waves
do in the above explanation.
d. The object appears upside down just as if it were reflected of the surface of water. But it is
refracted not reflected!

4. Why does the bottom of a lake or pool, (or submerged object), appear to be closer than it
actually is?
Because of refraction, the apparent depth of the bottom is less than the real depth. The bottom
appears to be nearer than it actually is. As shown below, the light emerges from the water and

bends down towards the surface (away from the normal to the water surface). This causes your
eyes to see the light as coming from the virtual image point closer to the surface.

5. Why is it possible to still see the sun after it has set?


As sunlight passes through more and more dense atmosphere at sunset the light slows and bends
closer and closer toward the normal. When the eye traces the light ray it appears to be higher in
the sky.

For an explanation of other refraction related phenomena involving the sun (sun dogs, sun
pillars, sun halos), click on the links shown. Sundogs are those faint rainbows you can see on
either side of the sun usually during the winter. Sun pillars are those shafts of light that stream
upward from the setting sun. A sun halo is that ring around the sun (and sometimes a full moon
at night) that you see which usually is an indication of a warm front approaching (periods of
steady rain ahead).
For more wonderful pictures of all of the various atmospheric refraction phenomena, click here.
There are beautiful pictures of sundogs, ice halos, rainbows, double rainbows and much, much
more. Check it out!
6. What would you see if you were to look up out of water from below the surface?

As you look up within the critical angle (about 48.75) you would be able to see out. As you look
up at angles greater than the critical angle as measured from the normal you would see a
reflection of the bottom of the pool or lake. This produces a circular window on the surface
through which you can see all of the outside world. Beyond this circular window one would only
see reflections of underwater. You can see what a fish would see looking up towards the surface
of a calm pond by clicking here. You can also investigate the effects of changing the wavelength
of light has on the critical angle of incidence by clicking here.
Learner Goal 15
1. Define and give examples of dispersion.
Dispersion is the spreading of white light into its spectrum as it passes through a material. This is
most apparent when the boundaries are not parallel to each other: For example in prisms or
raindrops.
2. Explain and draw the dispersion of light as it passes through a prism.
a. Light slows down in transparent materials as compared to its speed in a vacuum.
b. Each color of light has its own speed in transparent materials. Violet light has the slowest, red
the fastest.
c. The reason is that the molecules resonate at higher frequencies. It takes longer for the violet
and blue light to be re-emitted by the molecules than the lower frequency colors.
d. If the two boundaries of the transparent material are not parallel the separation of light is quite
obvious.

To see the refraction of the various colors through a prism, click here. This site
has a hand on the ROYGBIV spectrum - you just grab the hand and slide it
down through the colors to see how each color refracts a different amount. Try it!

To see one color of light as it passes through a prism and reflects/refracts/totally internally
reflects, click here. This is a great visual showing you exactly what happens to light as it
enters and leaves the prism.
3. Define and give examples of total internal reflection and explain why the light reflects
inside these materials.
Binoculars, diamonds, raindrops, fiber optics, are all objects where total internal reflection takes
place.
a. This happens only when light is traveling from a more dense to a less dense material.
b. At an angle called the critical angle light no longer will refract into the less dense material.
Instead it is reflected back inside.
To see a beam from a flashlight shining up from underwater trying to escape into the air, click
here. You may also switch it so the light goes from air into water to see that all angles of
incidence will allow the light to enter the water, but from the water, there is only a certain range
of angles which allows the light to escape.
4. How are rainbows made?
a. This is an excellent example of dispersion of light by water.
b. To see a rainbow the sun must be behind you.
c. The colors are dispersed from the sunlight by thousands of tiny drops that act like prisms.
d. At the first surface of the rain drop the light is dispersed into its colors. Violet is bent the most,
red the least.
e. The light hits the second surface an partly refracts out but most of it reflects back.
f. The light hits the first surface again and disperses even more just like a prism.
g. The red light is below the violet light. When we see a rainbow however, the red light is above
the violet. This is because a raindrop above the one that refracts violet is refracting red.

We see the different colors at specific angles from our line of sight away from the sun (from the
center of your own shadow) because of the difference in the refraction of the reds vs. the blues
and violets. See below (don't worry, you don't need to know the specific angles).

To explore more on your own, click here to see either individual rays (you change the
wavelength) or white light entering and leaving the raindrop. Very cool. Try it!
5. Calculate the refracted angle given the angle of incidence and the index of refraction of
each substance using Snell's law.
Question: Find the angle of refraction of a ray of light passing from air into water at an incident
angle of 30
Given: n1= 1.00, n2= 1.33, i=30
Want: r
Eqn: n1sin(i) = n2sin(r)
Solve: r = sin-1((n1/n2)sin(i))
Plug in: r = sin-1((1.0/1.33)sin(30)) = 22.

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