Understanding Refraction by Understanding its Laws



Light travels in a straight line, a fact that is well established and agreed upon, light also changes its direction when it passes from one medium to another. Another fact that is well established and agreed upon; this phenomena in which the direction of the light changes because it passes from one object to another is called Refraction.

The phenomena that helped people understand the wavelength of lights and the speed in which they travel in different mediums. The refraction of light is well understood using prism as an object prepared using optical lenses;

light enters the prism and gets refracted into different wavelengths; something that was first observed and discovered by Isaac Newton and later on followed by the scientists world wide.

Bending proper light by understanding its laws:

  • All types of rays lies in the same plane, so be it incident ray, reflected ray, refracted ray they all are in the same plane.
  • The second law is also called Snell’s law; named after its founder Willebrord Snellius; it explains that the sine of the angle of the incidence to the sine of the angle of refraction is a constant.
  • The light is always refracted at a smaller angle when it passes from lower optical density to higher optical density.
  • The light is refracted to higher angle if it passes from higher optical density to lower optical density.

Experiments to understand these laws better:

  • Broken pencil: This experiment is very simple, all that one needs to perform this task is a pencil and a glass of water – Half water. In a half filled glass of water, merge a pencil and then observe it from the sideways, it will appear broken. However nothing has happened to the pencil or water but the effect of refraction will cause that illusion.
  • The appearing and disappearing coin: In this experiment a coin is placed at the bottom of the container and person moves back till the time the coin disappears from the eyesight. Now the water is poured into the container and the refraction works its magic, the coin which till now was lost in the bowl would re-appear as the principle of refraction takes place.

Understanding the properties of light is the most important aspect of physics; and the properties of light cannot be explained till the time law of refraction and the law of reflection is not well understood. These laws are very well defined and explained in all the scientific journals and textbooks; and kids must also be encouraged to understand them by learning and enjoying simple experiments and examples. The idea behind these simple experiments is firstly they are safe to perform and secondly they are easy to understand and thirdly they can be carried out and performed anywhere at home or in schools.

Therefore it is imperative that these laws are well understood before the complexities of the principle of light is well discussed. Light, like all the particles in nature are enigmatic and mesmerizing and scientists are doing their level best to first understand it themselves and later explain it to people using the simplest of language.

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