Refraction
Overview

Refraction is the change in direction of a wave
Wave
In physics, a wave is a disturbance that travels through space and time, accompanied by the transfer of energy.Waves travel and the wave motion transfers energy from one point to another, often with no permanent displacement of the particles of the medium—that is, with little or no associated mass...

due to a change in its speed
Speed
In kinematics, the speed of an object is the magnitude of its velocity ; it is thus a scalar quantity. The average speed of an object in an interval of time is the distance traveled by the object divided by the duration of the interval; the instantaneous speed is the limit of the average speed as...

. It is essentially a surface phenomenon
Surface phenomenon
A Surface phenomenon is a phenomenon that takes place on or near the surface of a substance or phase. In most cases, the special properties of a surface cause these unique phenomena....

. The phenomenon is mainly in governance to the law of conservation of energy
Energy
In physics, energy is an indirectly observed quantity. It is often understood as the ability a physical system has to do work on other physical systems...

. The proper explanation would be that due to change of medium, the phase velocity
Phase velocity
The phase velocity of a wave is the rate at which the phase of the wave propagates in space. This is the speed at which the phase of any one frequency component of the wave travels. For such a component, any given phase of the wave will appear to travel at the phase velocity...

of the wave is changed but its frequency
Frequency
Frequency is the number of occurrences of a repeating event per unit time. It is also referred to as temporal frequency.The period is the duration of one cycle in a repeating event, so the period is the reciprocal of the frequency...

remains constant. This is most commonly observed when a wave passes from one medium to another at any angle other than 90° or 0°.
Encyclopedia
Refraction is the change in direction of a wave
Wave
In physics, a wave is a disturbance that travels through space and time, accompanied by the transfer of energy.Waves travel and the wave motion transfers energy from one point to another, often with no permanent displacement of the particles of the medium—that is, with little or no associated mass...

due to a change in its speed
Speed
In kinematics, the speed of an object is the magnitude of its velocity ; it is thus a scalar quantity. The average speed of an object in an interval of time is the distance traveled by the object divided by the duration of the interval; the instantaneous speed is the limit of the average speed as...

. It is essentially a surface phenomenon
Surface phenomenon
A Surface phenomenon is a phenomenon that takes place on or near the surface of a substance or phase. In most cases, the special properties of a surface cause these unique phenomena....

. The phenomenon is mainly in governance to the law of conservation of energy
Energy
In physics, energy is an indirectly observed quantity. It is often understood as the ability a physical system has to do work on other physical systems...

. The proper explanation would be that due to change of medium, the phase velocity
Phase velocity
The phase velocity of a wave is the rate at which the phase of the wave propagates in space. This is the speed at which the phase of any one frequency component of the wave travels. For such a component, any given phase of the wave will appear to travel at the phase velocity...

of the wave is changed but its frequency
Frequency
Frequency is the number of occurrences of a repeating event per unit time. It is also referred to as temporal frequency.The period is the duration of one cycle in a repeating event, so the period is the reciprocal of the frequency...

remains constant. This is most commonly observed when a wave passes from one medium to another at any angle other than 90° or 0°. Refraction of light
Light
Light or visible light is electromagnetic radiation that is visible to the human eye, and is responsible for the sense of sight. Visible light has wavelength in a range from about 380 nanometres to about 740 nm, with a frequency range of about 405 THz to 790 THz...

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
Snell's law
In optics and physics, Snell's law is a formula used to describe the relationship between the angles of incidence and refraction, when referring to light or other waves passing through a boundary between two different isotropic media, such as water and glass...

, 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
Angle of incidence
Angle of incidence is a measure of deviation of something from "straight on", for example:* in the approach of a ray to a surface, or* the angle at which the wing or horizontal tail of an airplane is installed on the fuselage, measured relative to the axis of the fuselage.-Optics:In geometric...

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
Reflection (physics)
Reflection is the change in direction of a wavefront at an interface between two differentmedia so that the wavefront returns into the medium from which it originated. Common examples include the reflection of light, sound and water waves...

; the details of this behavior are described by the Fresnel equations
Fresnel equations
The Fresnel equations , deduced by Augustin-Jean Fresnel , describe the behaviour of light when moving between media of differing refractive indices...

.

## Explanation

In optics
Optics
Optics is the branch of physics which involves the behavior and properties of light, including its interactions with matter and the construction of instruments that use or detect it. Optics usually describes the behavior of visible, ultraviolet, and infrared light...

, refraction is a phenomenon that often occurs when waves travel from a medium with a given refractive index
Refractive index
In optics the refractive index or index of refraction of a substance or medium is a measure of the speed of light in that medium. It is expressed as a ratio of the speed of light in vacuum relative to that in the considered medium....

to a medium with another at an oblique angle. At the boundary between the media, the wave's phase velocity
Phase velocity
The phase velocity of a wave is the rate at which the phase of the wave propagates in space. This is the speed at which the phase of any one frequency component of the wave travels. For such a component, any given phase of the wave will appear to travel at the phase velocity...

is altered, usually causing a change in direction. Its wavelength
Wavelength
In physics, the wavelength of a sinusoidal wave is the spatial period of the wave—the distance over which the wave's shape repeats.It is usually determined by considering the distance between consecutive corresponding points of the same phase, such as crests, troughs, or zero crossings, and is a...

increases or decreases but its frequency
Frequency
Frequency is the number of occurrences of a repeating event per unit time. It is also referred to as temporal frequency.The period is the duration of one cycle in a repeating event, so the period is the reciprocal of the frequency...

remains constant. For example, a light ray
Ray (optics)
In optics, a ray is an idealized narrow beam of light. Rays are used to model the propagation of light through an optical system, by dividing the real light field up into discrete rays that can be computationally propagated through the system by the techniques of ray tracing. This allows even very...

will refract as it enters and leaves glass
Glass
Glass is an amorphous solid material. Glasses are typically brittle and optically transparent.The most familiar type of glass, used for centuries in windows and drinking vessels, is soda-lime glass, composed of about 75% silica plus Na2O, CaO, and several minor additives...

, assuming there is a change in refractive index. A ray traveling along the normal (perpendicular to the boundary) will change speed, but not direction. Refraction still occurs in this case. Understanding of this concept led to the invention
Invention
An invention is a novel composition, device, or process. An invention may be derived from a pre-existing model or idea, or it could be independently conceived, in which case it may be a radical breakthrough. In addition, there is cultural invention, which is an innovative set of useful social...

of lens
Lens (optics)
A lens is an optical device with perfect or approximate axial symmetry which transmits and refracts light, converging or diverging the beam. A simple lens consists of a single optical element...

es and the refracting telescope
Refracting telescope
A refracting or refractor telescope is a type of optical telescope that uses a lens as its objective to form an image . The refracting telescope design was originally used in spy glasses and astronomical telescopes but is also used for long focus camera lenses...

.

Refraction can be seen when looking into a bowl of water. Air has a refractive index of about 1.0003, and water has a refractive index of about 1.33. If a person looks at a straight object, such as a pencil or straw, which is placed at a slant, partially in the water, the object appears to bend at the water's surface. This is due to the bending of light rays as they move from the water to the air. Once the rays reach the eye, the eye traces them back as straight lines (lines of sight). The lines of sight (shown as dashed lines) intersect at a higher position than where the actual rays originated. This causes the pencil to appear higher and the water to appear shallower than it really is. The depth that the water appears to be when viewed from above is known as the apparent depth. This is an important consideration for spearfishing
Spearfishing
Spearfishing is an ancient method of fishing that has been used throughout the world for millennia. Early civilizations were familiar with the custom of spearing fish from rivers and streams using sharpened sticks....

from the surface because it will make the target fish appear to be in a different place, and the fisher must aim lower to catch the fish.

The diagram on the right shows an example of refraction in water waves. Ripples travel from the left and pass over a shallower region inclined at an angle to the wavefront. The waves travel more slowly in the shallower water, so the wavelength decreases and the wave bends at the boundary. The dotted line represents the normal
Surface normal
A surface normal, or simply normal, to a flat surface is a vector that is perpendicular to that surface. A normal to a non-flat surface at a point P on the surface is a vector perpendicular to the tangent plane to that surface at P. The word "normal" is also used as an adjective: a line normal to a...

to the boundary. The dashed line represents the original direction of the waves. This phenomenon explains why waves on a shoreline tend to strike the shore close to a perpendicular angle. As the waves travel from deep water into shallower water near the shore, they are refracted from their original direction of travel to an angle more normal to the shoreline.
Refraction is also responsible for rainbow
Rainbow
A rainbow is an optical and meteorological phenomenon that causes a spectrum of light to appear in the sky when the Sun shines on to droplets of moisture in the Earth's atmosphere. It takes the form of a multicoloured arc...

s and for the splitting of white light into a rainbow-spectrum as it passes through a glass prism. Glass has a higher refractive index than air. When a beam of white light passes from air into a material having an index of refraction that varies with frequency, a phenomenon known as dispersion
Dispersion (optics)
In optics, dispersion is the phenomenon in which the phase velocity of a wave depends on its frequency, or alternatively when the group velocity depends on the frequency.Media having such a property are termed dispersive media...

occurs, in which different coloured components of the white light are refracted at different angles, i.e., they bend by different amounts at the interface, so that they become separated. The different colors correspond to different frequencies.

While refraction allows for beautiful phenomena such as rainbows, it may also produce peculiar optical phenomena
Optical phenomenon
An optical phenomenon is any observable event that results from the interaction of light and matter. See also list of optical topics and optics. A mirage is an example of an optical phenomenon....

, such as mirage
Mirage
A mirage is a naturally occurring optical phenomenon in which light rays are bent to produce a displaced image of distant objects or the sky. The word comes to English via the French mirage, from the Latin mirare, meaning "to look at, to wonder at"...

s and Fata Morgana
Fata Morgana (mirage)
A Fata Morgana is an unusual and very complex form of mirage, a form of superior mirage, which, like many other kinds of superior mirages, is seen in a narrow band right above the horizon...

. These are caused by the change of the refractive index of air with temperature.

Recently some metamaterial
Metamaterial
Metamaterials are artificial materials engineered to have properties that may not be found in nature. Metamaterials usually gain their properties from structure rather than composition, using small inhomogeneities to create effective macroscopic behavior....

s have been created which have a negative refractive index.
With metamaterials, we can also obtain total refraction
Total refraction
Total refraction occurs when an incident wave on an interface between two media with opposite refractive index signs is completely transmitted. There is then no reflected wave. This can occur only when one of the two materials has a negative refractive index. Composite metamaterials with this...

phenomena when the wave impedances of the two media are matched. There is then no reflected wave.

Also, since refraction can make objects appear closer than they are, it is responsible for allowing water to magnify objects. First, as light is entering a drop of water, it slows down. If the water's surface is not flat, then the light will be bent into a new path. This round shape will bend the light outwards and as it spreads out, the image you see gets larger.

A useful analogy in explaining the refraction of light would be to imagine a marching band as they march at an oblique angle from pavement (a fast medium) into mud (a slower medium). The marchers on the side that runs into the mud first will slow down first. This causes the whole band to pivot slightly toward the normal (make a smaller angle from the normal).

## Clinical significance

In medicine
Medicine
Medicine is the science and art of healing. It encompasses a variety of health care practices evolved to maintain and restore health by the prevention and treatment of illness....

, particularly optometry
Optometry
Optometry is a health care profession concerned with eyes and related structures, as well as vision, visual systems, and vision information processing in humans. Optometrists, or Doctors of Optometry, are state licensed medical professionals trained to prescribe and fit lenses to improve vision,...

, ophthalmology
Ophthalmology
Ophthalmology is the branch of medicine that deals with the anatomy, physiology and diseases of the eye. An ophthalmologist is a specialist in medical and surgical eye problems...

and orthoptics, refraction (also known as refractometry) is a clinical test in which a phoropter
Phoropter
A phoropter is an instrument commonly used by eye care professionals during an eye examination, containing different lenses used for refraction of the eye during sight testing, to measure an individual's refractive error and determine his or her eyeglass prescription.Typically, the patient sits...

may be used by the appropriate eye care professional
Eye care professional
An eye care professional is an individual who provides a service related to the eyes or vision. It is a general term that can refer to any healthcare worker involved in eye care, from one with a small amount of post-secondary training to practitioners with a doctoral level of education.-Current...

to determine the eye's refractive error
Refractive error
A refractive error, or refraction error, is an error in the focusing of light by the eye and a frequent reason for reduced visual acuity.-Classification:...

and the best corrective lens
Corrective lens
A corrective lens is a lens worn in front of the eye, mainly used to treat myopia, hyperopia, astigmatism, and presbyopia. Glasses or "spectacles" are worn on the face a short distance in front of the eye. Contact lenses are worn directly on the surface of the eye...

es to be prescribed. A series of test lenses in graded optical power
Optical power
Optical power is the degree to which a lens, mirror, or other optical system converges or diverges light. It is equal to the reciprocal of the focal length of the device. The dioptre is the most common unit of measurement of optical power...

s or focal length
Focal length
The focal length of an optical system is a measure of how strongly the system converges or diverges light. For an optical system in air, it is the distance over which initially collimated rays are brought to a focus...

s are presented to determine which provide the sharpest, clearest vision.

## Acoustics

In underwater acoustics
Underwater acoustics
Underwater acoustics is the study of the propagation of sound in water and the interaction of the mechanical waves that constitute sound with the water and its boundaries. The water may be in the ocean, a lake or a tank. Typical frequencies associated with underwater acoustics are between 10 Hz and...

, refraction is the bending or curving of a sound ray that results when the ray passes through a sound speed gradient
In acoustics, the sound speed gradient is the rate of change of the speed of sound with distance, for example with depth in the ocean,or height in the Earth's atmosphere. A sound speed gradient leads to refraction of sound wavefronts in the direction of lower sound speed, causing the sound rays to...

from a region of one sound speed to a region of a different speed. The amount of ray bending is dependent upon the amount of difference between sound speeds, that is, the variation in temperature, salinity, and pressure of the water.
Similar acoustics
Acoustics
Acoustics is the interdisciplinary science that deals with the study of all mechanical waves in gases, liquids, and solids including vibration, sound, ultrasound and infrasound. A scientist who works in the field of acoustics is an acoustician while someone working in the field of acoustics...

effects are also found in the Earth's atmosphere
Earth's atmosphere
The atmosphere of Earth is a layer of gases surrounding the planet Earth that is retained by Earth's gravity. The atmosphere protects life on Earth by absorbing ultraviolet solar radiation, warming the surface through heat retention , and reducing temperature extremes between day and night...

. The phenomenon of refraction of sound in the atmosphere has been known for centuries; however, beginning in the early 1970s, widespread analysis of this effect came into vogue through the designing of urban highway
Highway
A highway is any public road. In American English, the term is common and almost always designates major roads. In British English, the term designates any road open to the public. Any interconnected set of highways can be variously referred to as a "highway system", a "highway network", or a...

s and noise barrier
Noise barrier
A noise barrier is an exterior structure designed to protect sensitive land uses from noise pollution...

s to address the meteorological effects of bending of sound rays in the lower atmosphere.

## Gallery

• Snell's law
Snell's law
In optics and physics, Snell's law is a formula used to describe the relationship between the angles of incidence and refraction, when referring to light or other waves passing through a boundary between two different isotropic media, such as water and glass...

• Huygens–Fresnel principle
• Birefringence
Birefringence
Birefringence, or double refraction, is the decomposition of a ray of light into two rays when it passes through certain anisotropic materials, such as crystals of calcite or boron nitride. The effect was first described by the Danish scientist Rasmus Bartholin in 1669, who saw it in calcite...

(double refraction)
• Negative refraction
Negative refraction
Negative refraction is the name for an electromagnetic phenomenon where light rays are refracted at an interface in the reverse sense to that normally expected...

• List of indices of refraction
• Reflection
Reflection (physics)
Reflection is the change in direction of a wavefront at an interface between two differentmedia so that the wavefront returns into the medium from which it originated. Common examples include the reflection of light, sound and water waves...

• Total internal reflection
Total internal reflection
Total internal reflection is an optical phenomenon that happens when a ray of light strikes a medium boundary at an angle larger than a particular critical angle with respect to the normal to the surface. If the refractive index is lower on the other side of the boundary and the incident angle is...