Refraction Experiment

post-image1When the arrow is moved to a particular distance behind the glass of water, it looks like it reversed itself. When light passes from one material to another, it can bend or refract. In the experiment that you just completed, light traveled from the air, through the glass, through the water, through the back of the glass, and then back through the air, before hitting the arrow. Anytime that light passes from one medium, or material, into another, it refracts.

What is refraction?

Refraction is the change in direction of propagation of a wave due to a change in its transmission medium.

The phenomenon is explained by the conservation of energy and conservation of momentum. Due to change of medium, the phase velocity of the wave is changed but its frequency remains constant. This is most commonly observed when a wave passes from one medium to another at any angle other than 0° from the normal. refractionRefraction of light is the most commonly observed phenomenon, but any type of wave can refract when it interacts with a medium, for example when sound waves pass from one medium into another or when water waves move into water of a different depth. Refraction is described by Snell’s law, which states that for a given pair of media and a wave with a single frequency, the ratio of the sines of the angle of incidence θ1 and angle of refraction θ2 is equivalent to the ratio of phase velocities (v1 / v2) in the two media, or equivalently, to the opposite ratio of the indices of refraction (n2 / n1):


In general, the incident wave is partially refracted and partially reflected; the details of this behavior are described by the Fresnel equations.