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3/9/2017 Snell'sLaw

Snell'sLaw
TheAngleofRefraction
Snell'sLaw
RayTracingandProblemSolving
DeterminationofnValues

Refractionisthebendingofthepathofalightwaveasitpassesacrosstheboundaryseparatingtwo
media.Refractioniscausedbythechangeinspeedexperiencedbyawavewhenitchanges
medium.Lesson1,focusedonthetopicsof"Whatcausesrefraction?"and"Whichdirectiondoeslight
refract?"Inthatlesson,welearnedthatlightcaneitherrefracttowardsthenormal(whenslowingdown
whilecrossingtheboundary)orawayfromthenormal(whenspeedingupwhilecrossingtheboundary).
ThefocusofLesson2isuponthequestionof"Byhowmuchdoeslightrefractwhenitcrossesa
boundary?"InthefirstpartofLesson2,welearnedthatacomparisonoftheangleofrefractiontothe
angleofincidenceprovidesagoodmeasureoftherefractiveabilityofanygivenboundary.Themore
thatlightrefracts,thebiggerthedifferencebetweenthesetwoangles.InthispartofLesson2,wewill
learnaboutamathematicalequationrelatingthesetwoanglesandtheindicesofrefractionofthetwo
materialsoneachsideoftheboundary.


ALessonfromtheLaboratory
Tobegin,considerahemicylindricaldishfilledwithwater.Supposethatalaser
beamisdirectedtowardstheflatsideofthedishattheexactcenterofthedish.
Theangleofincidencecanbemeasuredatthepointofincidence.Thisraywill
refract,bendingtowardsthenormal(sincethelightispassingfromamediumin
whichittravelsfastintooneinwhichittravelsslowFST).Oncethelightray
entersthewater,ittravelsinastraightlineuntilitreachesthesecondboundary.
Atthesecondboundary,thelightrayisapproachingalongthenormaltothe
curvedsurface(thisstemsfromthegeometryofcircles).Theraydoesnot
refractuponexitingsincetheangleofincidenceis0degrees(recalltheIfIWereAnArcherFishpage).
Therayoflaserlightthereforeexitsatthesameangleastherefractedrayoflightmadeatthefirst
boundary.Thesetwoanglescanbemeasuredandrecorded.Theangleofincidenceofthelaserbeam
canbechangedto5degreesandnewmeasurementscanbemadeandrecorded.Thisprocesscanbe
repeateduntilacompletedatasetofaccuratevalueshasbeencollected.Thedatabelowshowa
representativesetofdataforsuchanexperiment.

AngleofIncidence AngleofRefraction
(degrees) (degrees)
0.00 0.00
5.00 3.8
10.0 7.5
15.0 11.2
20.0 14.9
25.0 18.5
30.0 22.1
35.0 25.5
40.0 28.9
45.0 32.1
50.0 35.2
55.0 38.0
60.0 40.6
65.0 43.0
70.0
http://www.physicsclassroom.com/class/refrn/Lesson2/SnellsLaw
45.0 1/3
75.0 46.6
3/9/2017 Snell'sLaw

80.0 47.8
85.0 48.5

Aninspectionofthedataaboverevealsthatthereisnoclearlinearrelationshipbetweentheangleof
incidenceandtheangleofrefraction.Forexample,adoublingoftheangleofincidencefrom40degrees
to80degreesdoesnotresultinadoublingoftheangleofrefraction.Thus,aplotofthisdatawouldnot
yieldastraightline.Ifhowever,thesineoftheangleofincidenceandthesineoftheangleofrefraction
wereplotted,theplotwouldbeastraightline,indicatingalinearrelationshipbetweenthesinesofthe
importantangles.Iftwoquantitiesformastraightlineonagraph,thenamathematicalrelationshipcan
bewritteniny=m*x+bform.Aplotofthesineoftheangleofincidencevs.thesineoftheangleof
refractionisshownbelow.


Theequationrelatingtheanglesofincidence(i)andtheangleofrefraction(r)forlightpassingfrom
airintowaterisgivenas

Observethattheconstantofproportionalityinthisequationis1.33theindexofrefractionvalueof
water.Perhapsit'sjustacoincidence.Butifthesemicylindricaldishfullofwaterwasreplacedbya
semicylindricaldiskofPlexiglas,theconstantofproportionalitywouldbe1.51theindexofrefraction
valueofPlexiglas.Thisisnotjustacoincidence.Thesamepatternwouldresultforlighttravelingfrom
airintoanymaterial.Experimentally,itisfoundthatforarayoflighttravelingfromairintosome
material,thefollowingequationcanbewritten.

wherenmaterial=indexofrefractionofthematerial
Thisstudyoftherefractionoflightasitcrossesfromonematerialintoasecondmaterialyieldsa
generalrelationshipbetweenthesinesoftheangleofincidenceandtheangleofrefraction.Thisgeneral
relationshipisexpressedbythefollowingequation:

wherei("thetai")=angleofincidence
r("thetar")=angleofrefraction
ni=indexofrefractionoftheincidentmedium
nr=indexofrefractionoftherefractivemedium
Thisrelationshipbetweentheanglesofincidenceandrefractionandtheindicesofrefractionofthetwo
mediaisknownasSnell'sLaw.Snell'slawappliestotherefractionoflightinanysituation,regardless
ofwhatthetwomediaare.


UsingSnell'sLawtoPredictAnAngleValue
Aswithanyequationinphysics,theSnell'sLawequationisvaluedforitspredictiveability.Ifanythree
ofthefourvariablesintheequationareknown,thefourthvariablecanbepredictedifappropriate
problemsolvingskillsareemployed.Thisisillustratedinthetwoexamplesbelow.
http://www.physicsclassroom.com/class/refrn/Lesson2/SnellsLaw 2/3
3/9/2017 Snell'sLaw


ExampleProblems
Inthefollowingtwoexamples,useSnell'slaw,thesinebuttononyourcalculator,aprotractor,andthe
indexofrefractionvaluestocompletethefollowingdiagrams.Measure ,calculate ,anddrawinthe
refractedraywiththecalculatedangleofrefraction.


Ineachofthesetwoexampleproblems,theangleofrefractionisthevariabletobedetermined.The
indicesofrefraction(niandnr)aregivenandtheangleofincidencecanbemeasured.Withthreeofthe
fourvariablesknown,substitutionintoSnell'slawfollowedbyalgebraicmanipulationwillleadtothe
answer.

http://www.physicsclassroom.com/class/refrn/Lesson2/SnellsLaw 3/3