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When light passes from one material to another it can change its angle of travel based on the new material.

Atoms Practice
Practice Refraction
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License: CC BY-NC 3.0

A simulation of what refraction through a prism looks like. [Figure1]

Refraction can occur in numerous areas of real life. One of the more artistic examples is inside a prism. Generically, a prism is a type of three dimensional geometric shape. However, in this case, we are specifically using a triangular prism like the one in the picture above. Due to the differences in the refraction index between the air and the glass, light bends once entering the prism. Since the sides are angled, the light bends even more when it exits the prism. What makes this refraction so artistically interesting is that different wavelengths of light refract differently. Longer wavelengths tend to refract less while shorter wavelengths tend to refract more. When a focused beam of light is shown through the prism, the differing angles of refraction send the different wavelengths of light in a sequence of directions. The resulting display of light is a whole spectrum of visible light laid out angularly in order. This looks very neat and can be recreated at home without too much difficulty. A great example of the spectrum created by a prism is found in the video below.

Creative Applications:

  1. What are some examples of refraction in nature?

  2. In what situations would refraction would be a useful tool?

    Refraction is also very important in the angle of cuts in gemstones. How could refraction be used to make a translucent (clear) gem appear to be a specific color?

Image Attributions

  1. [1]^ License: CC BY-NC 3.0


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