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Types of reflection

The Law of Reflection holds for every light ray. Does this mean that when parallel rays approach a surface, the reflected rays will also be parallel? This depends on the texture of the reflecting surface.

Specular and diffuse reflection.

Specular reflection

[link] (a) shows a surface that is flat and even. Parallel incident light rays hit the smooth surface and parallel reflected light rays leave the surface. This type of reflection is called specular reflection . Specular reflection occurs when rays are reflected from a smooth, shiny surface. The normal to the surface is the same at every point on the surface. Parallel incident rays become parallel reflected rays. When you look in a mirror, the image you see is formed by specular reflection.

Diffuse reflection

[link] (b) shows a surface with bumps and curves. When multiple rays hit this uneven surface, diffuse reflection occurs. The incident rays are parallel but the reflected rays are not. Each point on the surface has a different normal. This means the angle of incidence is different at each point. Then according to the Law of Reflection, each angle of reflection is different. Diffuse reflection occurs when light rays are reflected from bumpy surfaces. You can still see a reflection as long as the surface is not too bumpy. Diffuse reflection enables us to see all objects that are not sources of light.

Experiment : specular and diffuse reflection

A bouncing ball can be used to demonstrate the basic difference between specular and diffuse reflection.


To demonstrate and compare specular and diffuse reflection.


You will need:

  1. a small ball (a tennis ball or a table tennis ball is perfect)
  2. a smooth surface, like the floor inside the classroom
  3. a very rough surface, like a rocky piece of ground


  1. Bounce the ball on the smooth floor and observe what happens.
  2. Bounce the ball on the rough ground floor and observe what happens.
  3. What do you observe?
  4. What is the difference between the two surfaces?


You should have seen that the ball bounces (is reflected off the floor) in a predictable manner off the smooth floor, but bounces unpredictably on the rough ground.

The ball can be seen to be a ray of light and the floor or ground is the reflecting surface. For specular reflection (smooth surface), the ball bounces predictably. For diffuse reflection (rough surface), the ball bounces unpredictably.


  1. The diagram shows a curved surface. Draw normals to the surface at the marked points.
  2. Which of the points, A–H, in the diagram, correspond to the following:
    1. normal
    2. angle of incidence
    3. angle of reflection
    4. incident ray
    5. reflected ray
  3. State the Law of Reflection. Draw a diagram, label the appropriate angles and write a mathematical expression for the Law of Reflection.
  4. The diagram shows an incident ray I . Which of the other 5 rays (A, B, C, D, E) best represents the reflected ray of I ?
  5. A ray of light strikes a surface at 15 to the surface normal. Draw a ray diagram showing the incident ray, reflected ray and surface normal. Calculate the angles of incidence and reflection and fill them in on your diagram.
  6. A ray of light leaves a surface at 65 to the surface. Draw a ray diagram showing the incident ray, reflected ray and surface normal. Calculate the angles of incidence and reflection and fill them in on your diagram.
  7. Explain the difference between specular and diffuse reflection.
  8. We see an object when the light that is reflected by the object enters our eyes. Do you think the reflection by most objects is specular reflection or diffuse reflection? Explain.
  9. A beam of light (for example from a torch) is generally not visible at night, as it travels through air. Try this for yourself. However, if you shine the torch through dust, the beam is visible. Explain why this happens.

Questions & Answers

What fields keep nano created devices from performing or assimulating ? Magnetic fields ? Are do they assimilate ?
Stoney Reply
why we need to study biomolecules, molecular biology in nanotechnology?
Adin Reply
yes I'm doing my masters in nanotechnology, we are being studying all these domains as well..
what school?
biomolecules are e building blocks of every organics and inorganic materials.
anyone know any internet site where one can find nanotechnology papers?
Damian Reply
sciencedirect big data base
Introduction about quantum dots in nanotechnology
Praveena Reply
what does nano mean?
Anassong Reply
nano basically means 10^(-9). nanometer is a unit to measure length.
do you think it's worthwhile in the long term to study the effects and possibilities of nanotechnology on viral treatment?
Damian Reply
absolutely yes
how to know photocatalytic properties of tio2 nanoparticles...what to do now
Akash Reply
it is a goid question and i want to know the answer as well
characteristics of micro business
for teaching engĺish at school how nano technology help us
Do somebody tell me a best nano engineering book for beginners?
s. Reply
there is no specific books for beginners but there is book called principle of nanotechnology
what is fullerene does it is used to make bukky balls
Devang Reply
are you nano engineer ?
fullerene is a bucky ball aka Carbon 60 molecule. It was name by the architect Fuller. He design the geodesic dome. it resembles a soccer ball.
what is the actual application of fullerenes nowadays?
That is a great question Damian. best way to answer that question is to Google it. there are hundreds of applications for buck minister fullerenes, from medical to aerospace. you can also find plenty of research papers that will give you great detail on the potential applications of fullerenes.
what is the Synthesis, properties,and applications of carbon nano chemistry
Abhijith Reply
Mostly, they use nano carbon for electronics and for materials to be strengthened.
is Bucky paper clear?
carbon nanotubes has various application in fuel cells membrane, current research on cancer drug,and in electronics MEMS and NEMS etc
so some one know about replacing silicon atom with phosphorous in semiconductors device?
s. Reply
Yeah, it is a pain to say the least. You basically have to heat the substarte up to around 1000 degrees celcius then pass phosphene gas over top of it, which is explosive and toxic by the way, under very low pressure.
Do you know which machine is used to that process?
how to fabricate graphene ink ?
for screen printed electrodes ?
What is lattice structure?
s. Reply
of graphene you mean?
or in general
in general
Graphene has a hexagonal structure
On having this app for quite a bit time, Haven't realised there's a chat room in it.
what is biological synthesis of nanoparticles
Sanket Reply
what's the easiest and fastest way to the synthesize AgNP?
Damian Reply
how did you get the value of 2000N.What calculations are needed to arrive at it
Smarajit Reply
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Source:  OpenStax, Siyavula textbooks: grade 10 physical science. OpenStax CNX. Aug 29, 2011 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11245/1.3
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