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Q & A: Uses for mirrors

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Q:
My daughter is presently in Grade 5. One of her science questions asks her to list at least 10-15 uses for mirrors. I can’t seem to think of too many beyond transportation, cameras, telescopes. Can you help? Thank you in advance.
- Jean
St. John’s, Canada
A:
Hi Jean,

This sounds like fun! I'll start with your suggestions. Some of these are listed by the type of mirror and where you find them, but their names and places also indicate their uses.

Car rear-view mirrors and side mirrors.

Single-lens-reflex (SLR) cameras

Newtonian ("reflector") telescopes. There are other kinds of telescopes that also use mirrors, like Cassegrain designs.

Over-the-sink in the bathroom mirrors (for shaving and other uses)

Full-length dressing mirrors, often found inside closets

Dental mirrors

Fun-house mirrors with wavy surfaces

Magnifying mirrors in makeup kits "compacts"

Mirrored balls hanging from the ceiling in discotheques

Flashlights have curved mirrors for directing the beam of light

Searchlights, floodlights, and spotlights (used in theaters) have similar mirrors.

Magic tricks are sometimes done with the aid of mirrors.

Periscopes use mirrors

Many babies' toys have mirrors on them. Babies like to look at themselves

Parakeet cages often have hanging mirrors in them. Parakeets will often peck at them, thinking they are looking at another parakeet.

Apollo 11 left a mirror on the moon. It is used to reflect laser light from Earth, and with precise knowledge of the speed of light, we can measure the distance from the Earth to the moon by measuring the round-trip time of the light. It is now known that the moon is slowly moving away from the Earth.

Sometimes auto mechanics use mirrors held on rods so they can examine hard-to-reach places. The idea is similar to that of a dental mirror, but these mirrors are a bit bigger.
Mirrors sometimes are placed to cover an entire wall to make a shop, restaurant, or other room appear to be bigger.

You find mirrors in barbershops so that the customer may see the result, front and back.

You can use a mirror to shine a spot of sunlight far away, and communicate with flashes of light to others if you are out in the wilderness hiking.

Mirrors are often put on the dials of old voltmeters, the kind which has a needle indicator which moves to indicate the voltage on a dial. The problem with these is that if you look at them from the side, you can read the wrong number. The mirror is there to help get the right reading. If you look at it straight on, the needle and its reflection will line up, and then you are sure you are reading in in the right place.

Mirrors are used to collect sunlight for solar power generation.

Can you think of more?

Tom J.

(republished on 07/29/06)

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