<< Chapter < Page Chapter >> Page >
The picture shows binoculars with prisms inside. The light through one of the object lenses enters through the first prism and suffers total internal reflection and then falls on the second prism and gets total internally reflected and emerges out through one of the eyepiece lenses.
These binoculars employ corner reflectors with total internal reflection to get light to the observer’s eyes.

The sparkle of diamonds

Total internal reflection, coupled with a large index of refraction, explains why diamonds sparkle more than other materials. The critical angle for a diamond-to-air surface is only 24 . size 12{"24" "." 4°} {} , and so when light enters a diamond, it has trouble getting back out. (See [link] .) Although light freely enters the diamond, it can exit only if it makes an angle less than 24 . size 12{"24" "." 4°} {} . Facets on diamonds are specifically intended to make this unlikely, so that the light can exit only in certain places. Good diamonds are very clear, so that the light makes many internal reflections and is concentrated at the few places it can exit—hence the sparkle. (Zircon is a natural gemstone that has an exceptionally large index of refraction, but not as large as diamond, so it is not as highly prized. Cubic zirconia is manufactured and has an even higher index of refraction ( 2.17 size 12{»2 "." "17"} {} ), but still less than that of diamond.) The colors you see emerging from a sparkling diamond are not due to the diamond’s color, which is usually nearly colorless. Those colors result from dispersion, the topic of Dispersion: The Rainbow and Prisms . Colored diamonds get their color from structural defects of the crystal lattice and the inclusion of minute quantities of graphite and other materials. The Argyle Mine in Western Australia produces around 90% of the world’s pink, red, champagne, and cognac diamonds, while around 50% of the world’s clear diamonds come from central and southern Africa.

A light ray falls onto one of the faces of a diamond, gets refracted, falls on another face and gets totally internally reflected, and this reflected ray further undergoes multiple reflections when it falls on other faces.
Light cannot easily escape a diamond, because its critical angle with air is so small. Most reflections are total, and the facets are placed so that light can exit only in particular ways—thus concentrating the light and making the diamond sparkle.

Phet explorations: bending light

Explore bending of light between two media with different indices of refraction. See how changing from air to water to glass changes the bending angle. Play with prisms of different shapes and make rainbows.

Bending Light

Section summary

  • The incident angle that produces an angle of refraction of 90º size 12{"90"°} {} is called critical angle.
  • Total internal reflection is a phenomenon that occurs at the boundary between two mediums, such that if the incident angle in the first medium is greater than the critical angle, then all the light is reflected back into that medium.
  • Fiber optics involves the transmission of light down fibers of plastic or glass, applying the principle of total internal reflection.
  • Endoscopes are used to explore the body through various orifices or minor incisions, based on the transmission of light through optical fibers.
  • Cladding prevents light from being transmitted between fibers in a bundle.
  • Diamonds sparkle due to total internal reflection coupled with a large index of refraction.

Conceptual questions

A ring with a colorless gemstone is dropped into water. The gemstone becomes invisible when submerged. Can it be a diamond? Explain.

Got questions? Get instant answers now!

A high-quality diamond may be quite clear and colorless, transmitting all visible wavelengths with little absorption. Explain how it can sparkle with flashes of brilliant color when illuminated by white light.

Got questions? Get instant answers now!

Is it possible that total internal reflection plays a role in rainbows? Explain in terms of indices of refraction and angles, perhaps referring to [link] . Some of us have seen the formation of a double rainbow. Is it physically possible to observe a triple rainbow?

A double rainbow with spectacular bands of seven colors.
Double rainbows are not a very common observance. (credit: InvictusOU812, Flickr)

Got questions? Get instant answers now!

The most common type of mirage is an illusion that light from faraway objects is reflected by a pool of water that is not really there. Mirages are generally observed in deserts, when there is a hot layer of air near the ground. Given that the refractive index of air is lower for air at higher temperatures, explain how mirages can be formed.

Got questions? Get instant answers now!


Verify that the critical angle for light going from water to air is 48.6º size 12{"48" "." 6°} {} , as discussed at the end of [link] , regarding the critical angle for light traveling in a polystyrene (a type of plastic) pipe surrounded by air.

Got questions? Get instant answers now!

(a) At the end of [link] , it was stated that the critical angle for light going from diamond to air is 24 . size 12{"24" "." 4°} {} . Verify this. (b) What is the critical angle for light going from zircon to air?

Got questions? Get instant answers now!

An optical fiber uses flint glass clad with crown glass. What is the critical angle?

66 . size 12{"66" "." 3°} {}

Got questions? Get instant answers now!

At what minimum angle will you get total internal reflection of light traveling in water and reflected from ice?

Got questions? Get instant answers now!

Suppose you are using total internal reflection to make an efficient corner reflector. If there is air outside and the incident angle is 45 . size 12{"45" "." 0°} {} , what must be the minimum index of refraction of the material from which the reflector is made?

> 1 . 414 size 12{>1 "." "414"} {}

Got questions? Get instant answers now!

You can determine the index of refraction of a substance by determining its critical angle. (a) What is the index of refraction of a substance that has a critical angle of 68 . size 12{"68" "." 4°} {} when submerged in water? What is the substance, based on [link] ? (b) What would the critical angle be for this substance in air?

Got questions? Get instant answers now!

A ray of light, emitted beneath the surface of an unknown liquid with air above it, undergoes total internal reflection as shown in [link] . What is the index of refraction for the liquid and its likely identification?

A light ray travels from an object placed in a denser medium n1 at 15.0 centimeter from the boundary and on hitting the boundary gets totally internally reflected with theta c as critical angle. The horizontal distance between the object and the point of incidence is 13.4 centimeters.
A light ray inside a liquid strikes the surface at the critical angle and undergoes total internal reflection.

1.50, benzene

Got questions? Get instant answers now!

A light ray entering an optical fiber surrounded by air is first refracted and then reflected as shown in [link] . Show that if the fiber is made from crown glass, any incident ray will be totally internally reflected.

The figure shows light traveling from n1 to n2 is incident on a rectangular transparent object at an angle of incidence theta 1. The angle of refraction is theta 2. On refraction, the ray falls onto the long side and gets totally internally reflected with theta 3 as the angle of incidence.
A light ray enters the end of a fiber, the surface of which is perpendicular to its sides. Examine the conditions under which it may be totally internally reflected.
Got questions? Get instant answers now!

Questions & Answers

full meaning of GPS system
Anaele Reply
how to prove that Newton's law of universal gravitation F = GmM ______ R²
Kaka Reply
sir dose it apply to the human system
Olubukola Reply
prove that the centrimental force Fc= M1V² _________ r
Kaka Reply
prove that centripetal force Fc = MV² ______ r
how lesers can transmit information
mitul Reply
griffts bridge derivative
Ganesh Reply
below me
please explain; when a glass rod is rubbed with silk, it becomes positive and the silk becomes negative- yet both attracts dust. does dust have third types of charge that is attracted to both positive and negative
Timothy Reply
what is a conductor
below me
why below you
no....I said below me ...... nothing below .....ok?
dust particles contains both positive and negative charge particles
corona charge can verify
when pressure increases the temperature remain what?
Ibrahim Reply
remains the temperature
what is frequency
Mbionyi Reply
define precision briefly
Sujitha Reply
CT scanners do not detect details smaller than about 0.5 mm. Is this limitation due to the wavelength of x rays? Explain.
hope this helps
what's critical angle
Mahmud Reply
The Critical Angle Derivation So the critical angle is defined as the angle of incidence that provides an angle of refraction of 90-degrees. Make particular note that the critical angle is an angle of incidence value. For the water-air boundary, the critical angle is 48.6-degrees.
dude.....next time Google it
okay whatever
pls who can give the definition of relative density?
the ratio of the density of a substance to the density of a standard, usually water for a liquid or solid, and air for a gas.
What is momentum
aliyu Reply
mass ×velocity
it is the product of mass ×velocity of an object
how do I highlight a sentence]p? I select the sentence but get options like copy or web search but no highlight. tks. src
Sean Reply
then you can edit your work anyway you want
Wat is the relationship between Instataneous velocity
Oyinlusi Reply
Instantaneous velocity is defined as the rate of change of position for a time interval which is almost equal to zero
Practice Key Terms 4

Get the best College physics course in your pocket!

Source:  OpenStax, College physics. OpenStax CNX. Jul 27, 2015 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11406/1.9
Google Play and the Google Play logo are trademarks of Google Inc.

Notification Switch

Would you like to follow the 'College physics' conversation and receive update notifications?