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Tyndall effect - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

12/21/15, 13:13

Tyndall effect
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Tyndall effect, also known as Tyndall scattering, is light scattering

by particles in a colloid or else particles in a very fine suspension. It is
named after the 19th-century physicist John Tyndall. It is similar to
Rayleigh scattering, in that the intensity of the scattered light depends on
the fourth power of the frequency, so blue light is scattered much more
strongly than red light. An example in everyday life is the blue colour
sometimes seen in the smoke emitted by motorcycles, in particular twostroke machines where the burnt engine oil provides the particles.
Under the Tyndall effect, the longer-wavelength light is more
transmitted while the shorter-wavelength light is more reflected via
scattering. An analogy to this wavelength dependency is that longwave
electromagnetic waves such as radio waves are able to pass through the
walls of buildings, while shortwave electromagnetic waves such as light
waves are stopped and reflected by the walls. The Tyndall effect is seen
when light-scattering particulate-matter is dispersed in an otherwiselight-transmitting medium, when the cross-section of an individual
particulate is the range of roughly between 40 and 900 nanometers, i.e.,
somewhat below or near the wavelength of visible light (400750
It is particularly applicable to colloidal mixtures and fine suspensions;
for example, the Tyndall effect is used commercially to determine the
size and density of particles in aerosols and other colloidal matter (see
ultramicroscope and turbidimeter).

Flour suspended in water appears to

be blue because only scattered light
reaches the viewer and blue light is
scattered by the flour particles more
than red.

1 Comparison with Rayleigh scattering
2 Blue irises
3 Some phenomena that are not Tyndall scattering
4 See also
5 References

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Tyndall effect - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

12/21/15, 13:13

Comparison with Rayleigh scattering

Rayleigh scattering is defined by a mathematical formula that requires
the light-scattering particles to be far smaller than the wavelength of the
light. For a dispersion of particles to qualify for the Rayleigh formula,
the particle sizes need to be below roughly 40 nanometres, and the
particles may be individual molecules. Colloidal particles are bigger, and
are in the rough vicinity of the size of a wavelength of light. Tyndall
scattering, i.e. colloidal particle scattering, is much more intense than
Rayleigh scattering due to the bigger particle sizes involved. The
importance of the particle size factor for intensity can be seen in the
large exponent it has in the mathematical statement of the intensity of
Rayleigh scattering. There is no equivalent mathematical statement for
Tyndall scattering. But, if the colloid particles are spheroid, Tyndall
scattering is mathematically analysable in terms of Mie theory, which
admits particle sizes in the rough vicinity of the wavelength of light.

The Tyndall effect in opalescent glass:

It appears blue from the side, but
orange light shines through.[1]

Blue irises
A blue iris in an eye is due to Tyndall scattering in a turbid layer in the iris. Brown
and black irises have the same layer except with more melanin in it. The melanin
absorbs light. In the absence of melanin, the layer is translucent (i.e., the light
passing through is randomly and diffusely scattered) and a noticeable portion of the
light that enters this turbid layer re-emerges via a scattered path. That is, there is
backscatter, the redirection of the lightwaves back out to the open air. Scattering
takes place to a greater extent at the shorter wavelengths. The longer wavelengths
tend to pass straight through the turbid layer with unaltered paths, and then
A blue iris
encounter the next layer further back in the iris, which is a light absorber. Thus, the
longer wavelengths are not reflected (by scattering) back to the open air as much as
the shorter wavelengths are. Since the shorter wavelengths are the blue wavelengths, this gives rise to a blue hue
in the light that comes out of the eye.[2][3] The blue iris is an example of a structural color, in contradistinction
to a pigment color. The complete absence of pigment in eyes (albinism) causes the eye to appear red, due to the
visibility of the red of the retina through the iris.[4]

Some phenomena that are not Tyndall scattering

On a day when the sky is overcast, the sunlight passes through the turbid layer of the clouds, resulting in
scattered, diffuse light on the ground. This does not exhibit Tyndall scattering because the cloud droplets are
larger than the wavelength of light and scatter all colors approximately equally. On a day when the sky is cloudfree, the sky's color is blue in consequence of light scattering, but this is not termed Tyndall scattering (instead it

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Tyndall effect - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

12/21/15, 13:13

is Rayleigh scattering) because the scattering particles are the molecules of the air, which are much smaller than
the wavelength of the light.[5] On occasion, the term Tyndall effect is incorrectly applied to light scattering by
large (macroscopic) dust particles in the air.

See also
Light scattering
Nephelometer; aka turbidimeter
Rayleigh scattering
Transparency and translucency
Rock flour

2. For a short overview of how the Tyndall Effect creates the blue and green colors in animals see
( and for information in greater detail see (
3. Sturm R.A. & Larsson M., Genetics of human iris colour and patterns, Pigment Cell Melanoma Res, 22:544-562, 2009.
4. Blue & red | Causes of Color (
5. "Human color vision and the unsaturated blue color of the daytime sky", Glenn S. Smith, American Journal of Physics,
Volume 73, Issue 7, pp. 590-597 (2005).

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