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Mirrors exhibit specular reflection. In acoustics , reflection causes echoes and is used in sonar.

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In geology, it is important in the study of seismic waves. Reflection is observed with surface waves in bodies of water. Reflection is observed with many types of electromagnetic wave , besides visible light. Reflection of VHF and higher frequencies is important for radio transmission and for radar. Even hard X-rays and gamma rays can be reflected at shallow angles with special "grazing" mirrors. Reflection of light is either specular mirror-like or diffuse retaining the energy , but losing the image depending on the nature of the interface.

In specular reflection the phase of the reflected waves depends on the choice of the origin of coordinates, but the relative phase between s and p TE and TM polarizations is fixed by the properties of the media and of the interface between them. A mirror provides the most common model for specular light reflection, and typically consists of a glass sheet with a metallic coating where the significant reflection occurs. Reflection is enhanced in metals by suppression of wave propagation beyond their skin depths. Reflection also occurs at the surface of transparent media, such as water or glass.

In fact, reflection of light may occur whenever light travels from a medium of a given refractive index into a medium with a different refractive index.

Summary Of Properties Of Light | Geometrical Optics | Siyavula

In the most general case, a certain fraction of the light is reflected from the interface, and the remainder is refracted. Solving Maxwell's equations for a light ray striking a boundary allows the derivation of the Fresnel equations , which can be used to predict how much of the light is reflected, and how much is refracted in a given situation.

This is analogous to the way impedance mismatch in an electric circuit causes reflection of signals. Total internal reflection of light from a denser medium occurs if the angle of incidence is greater than the critical angle. Total internal reflection is used as a means of focusing waves that cannot effectively be reflected by common means.

X-ray telescopes are constructed by creating a converging "tunnel" for the waves. As the waves interact at low angle with the surface of this tunnel they are reflected toward the focus point or toward another interaction with the tunnel surface, eventually being directed to the detector at the focus. A conventional reflector would be useless as the X-rays would simply pass through the intended reflector.

In contrast, when light reflects off of a material with lower refractive index the reflected light is in phase with the incident light. This is an important principle in the field of thin-film optics. Specular reflection forms images.


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Reflection from a flat surface forms a mirror image , which appears to be reversed from left to right because we compare the image we see to what we would see if we were rotated into the position of the image. Specular reflection at a curved surface forms an image which may be magnified or demagnified; curved mirrors have optical power.

Such mirrors may have surfaces that are spherical or parabolic. If the reflecting surface is very smooth, the reflection of light that occurs is called specular or regular reflection.

Light and Matter

The laws of reflection are as follows:. These three laws can all be derived from the Fresnel equations. In classical electrodynamics , light is considered as an electromagnetic wave, which is described by Maxwell's equations. Light waves incident on a material induce small oscillations of polarisation in the individual atoms or oscillation of electrons, in metals , causing each particle to radiate a small secondary wave in all directions, like a dipole antenna.

All these waves add up to give specular reflection and refraction, according to the Huygens—Fresnel principle. In the case of dielectrics such as glass, the electric field of the light acts on the electrons in the material, and the moving electrons generate fields and become new radiators. The refracted light in the glass is the combination of the forward radiation of the electrons and the incident light.

The reflected light is the combination of the backward radiation of all of the electrons. In metals, electrons with no binding energy are called free electrons. Light—matter interaction in terms of photons is a topic of quantum electrodynamics , and is described in detail by Richard Feynman in his popular book QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter.

When light strikes the surface of a non-metallic material it bounces off in all directions due to multiple reflections by the microscopic irregularities inside the material e. Thus, an 'image' is not formed.

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This is called diffuse reflection. The exact form of the reflection depends on the structure of the material. One common model for diffuse reflection is Lambertian reflectance , in which the light is reflected with equal luminance in photometry or radiance in radiometry in all directions, as defined by Lambert's cosine law. The light sent to our eyes by most of the objects we see is due to diffuse reflection from their surface, so that this is our primary mechanism of physical observation.

Some surfaces exhibit retroreflection. The structure of these surfaces is such that light is returned in the direction from which it came.


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  • When flying over clouds illuminated by sunlight the region seen around the aircraft's shadow will appear brighter, and a similar effect may be seen from dew on grass. This partial retro-reflection is created by the refractive properties of the curved droplet's surface and reflective properties at the backside of the droplet. Some animals' retinas act as retroreflectors see tapetum lucidum for more detail , as this effectively improves the animals' night vision.

    Since the lenses of their eyes modify reciprocally the paths of the incoming and outgoing light the effect is that the eyes act as a strong retroreflector, sometimes seen at night when walking in wildlands with a flashlight. A simple retroreflector can be made by placing three ordinary mirrors mutually perpendicular to one another a corner reflector.

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    Nonlinear Optics

    Videotapes of these lectures were made publicly available on a not-for-profit basis in and more recently have been placed online by the Vega Science Trust. The book is based on Feynman's delivery of the first Alix G. The differences between the book and the original Auckland lectures were discussed in June in the American Journal of Physics. He introduces Feynman's peculiar take at explaining physics, and cites: "According to Feynman, to learn QED you have two choices: you can go through seven years of physics education or read this book".

    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Richard Feynman. Categories : books Physics books Works by Richard Feynman. Namespaces Article Talk.

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