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Reflections and Refractions: The Science Behind How Light Changes

Updated: Mar 7

Author: Jiayi Chen

Editors: Peggy Yang

Artist: Kaitlyn Stanton

Have you ever seen colorful bubbles and beautiful rainbows in the air or wondered why a body of water is way deeper than it looked? These phenomenons all have to do with reflection and refraction. Reflection and refraction, in physics, are the characteristics of light. Put it in simplest terms, reflection is the bouncing of light off a surface, while refraction is the shift in direction of light due to a change in the speed of light traveling from one medium to another.

There also are different types of reflections: regular, diffused, and multiple. Regular reflection, or specular refraction, is the most direct reflection, where light reflects uniformly without any shifts in angles. An example of regular reflection is when you look at the mirror, which reflects you directly. Diffused reflection occurs when the surface of the object is rough. This roughness of the surface leads to the light bouncing off the surface of a medium at a random angle, thus allowing us to see something that can't shine. Diffused reflection enables us to see light on anything from trees to folders. In other words, diffused reflection is how we see things. Multiple reflections occur when there are multiple reflective surfaces and at least one light source. It's the process of reflecting an image of an image, and one example of this will be two mirrors placed together with an angle that is greater than 0.

Refraction is the bending of light caused by a change in speed of the light due to a change in density of the substance in a medium. Some common examples of refraction are the prisms, swimming pool, rainbow. The prism separates the white light that passes through it into the component of white lights, which are the seven basic colors of rainbows. Rainbows are the refraction of sunlight through the millions of water drops after the rain, and it at most lasts as long as six-hour.w

Other than these naturally occurring phenomenons, there also are some artificial applications of reflection and refraction. The rear-view mirrors of cars use reflection to allow the driver to observe the things around the car. The microscope uses reflection to provide a light source to the specimen, and it uses refraction to magnify the specimen. Similar to microscopes, Concave mirrors are used by dentists to refract to magnify and reflect to observe the patient's teeth.

In conclusion, lights are everywhere in our daily lives. The characteristics of lights can help us to understand the principle behind how magnification and reflection works, and why we see what we see as humans.



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