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Chapter 3 – Refraction of Light Through A Prism

The following Topics and Sub-Topics are covered in this chapter and are available on MSVgo:

Introduction

In your physics class, you might have come across a solid glass object with identical ends and a flat face in a triangular shape. This object, which has the same cross-section across its length, is known as a prism. There are other variants in shapes and sizes, but this is one of the most common structures of the prism. A prism is used to break white light into multiple constituent spectral colors, that is, the seven colors of rainbows. Prisms are also used for refracting light and splitting it into multiple components with different polarization processes.

Refraction is the process of bending light when it passes from one medium to another. In a similar context, when light passes through a prism, it travels from air to a solid glass object, which causes the light ray to deviate, change its direction, and get divided into different colors.

The ability of the human eye to adjust to see objects from both near and far is called the power of accommodation. The process of accommodation tends to involve the lens of the eye and ciliary muscles. The work of ciliary muscles is to modify the curvature of the lens, due to which the focal length of the lens is affected. In other words, accommodation is the process by which the vertebrate eyes tend to change the eyes’ optical power. This helps them to maintain a clear focus on the image irrespective of the distance between a rigid lens and the muscles of the retina.

An advanced sunrise and a delayed sunset are the two primary examples of atmospheric refraction that humans can notice in their daily life. These phenomena are caused by the random flickering of the hot air and turbulent streams in the earth’s atmosphere. Atmospheric refraction is the process of light deviating from its straight-line path as it passes through different types of atmosphere with varied air density resulting from changes in height. Atmospheric refraction can therefore be defined as the deviation of light or any other sort of electromagnetic wave from a straight line followed. This happens when light passes through a different environment with a variation in air density, which causes it to change its height.

Scattering of light occurs when light particles pass through some imperfect medium filled with other particles, due to which light is deflected from its straight path. With this phenomenon, light scatters in multiple directions. One of the best examples of scattering of light is the deflection of sun rays when they pass through clouds. Scattering of light is also known as ‘Rayleigh scattering’ after Lord Rayleigh. He proved that scattering of light occurs elastically and dominates electromagnetic waves, which pass through imperfect mediums with different particles. Rayleigh also claimed that light is deflected in areas with particles due to the small wavelength of the area. The Tyndall Effect is one of the key examples of scattering of light. The Tyndall Effect can be described as light scattering by particles through the method of colloid or very fine suspension.

  • Human eyes work on a principle related to the refraction of light passing through a natural convex lens, with transparent living material. 
  • This natural convex lens of the eye allows living beings to see things and others in their environment. 
  • A human eye’s key parts are the cornea, optic nerve, retina, eye lens, ciliary muscle, iris, and pupil. 
  • The amount of light that enters a human eye is controlled by the pupil. If the intensity of light originating from outside is lower than necessary, the pupil expands, allowing more light to enter the eye. On the other hand, if the light intensity is higher than necessary, the pupil contracts so that less light enters the eye.

There are three most common defects of visions, namely, myopia, hypermetropia, and presbyopia. 

  • Myopia is a vision defect in which individuals cannot see distant objects clearly. Myopic eyes tend to make an image of a distant object form in front of the retina, rather than it forming in the retina itself. The key reason for this defect is an excessive curvature of the lens of the eyes. For correction of this defect, a concave lens should be used. 
  • Hypermetropia causes issues in seeing distant objects. The key cause of this defect is an increased focal length of the eye lens. For correcting this defect, a convex lens of appropriate power should be used. 
  • Presbyopia is caused due to aging when the power of accommodation of eyes decreases. This defect is caused due to the gradual weakening of the ciliary muscles. For correction of this issue, the use of bifocal lenses is recommended.  
  • Refraction of light is the process related to the bending of light when it passes from one medium to another. 
  • A prism is one of the best examples of a solid object that causes refraction of light, a phenomenon in which the direction of a light ray changes and it gets divided into multiple colors. 
  • Atmospheric refraction causes light to refract through the human eye. 
  • Scattering of light occurs when light gets deflected while passing through an imperfect medium.
  • Human eyes can suffer three basic defects: myopia, hypermetropia, and presbyopia.

1. What is the process of refraction of light through a prism?

When light passes through a glass prism, it causes refraction of light at the entry point and exit point. The ray of light deviates while passing through a prism, causing the refraction.

2. What happens when you look through a prism?

You will see different colors of light moving at different speeds, and the light waves will separate into multiple colors.

3. How is a prism an example of refraction?

When light passes through a prism, it gets refracted as it passes through the air and then the prism glass. The light ray divides into multiple colors; thus, the prism is an example of refraction.

4. What is refraction’s simple explanation?

A change in the direction of light due to changes in the medium through which it is passing is refraction.

5. Why white light gets dispersed when passed through a prism?

As different colors of the light travel at different speeds, when light passes through a refracting surface like a prism its components bend at varied angles, which causes it to disperse.

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