Learn more physics!
How does a prism work?
- chase gilbert (age 9)
Elbow Valley Elementary, Calgary Alberta Canada
When light goes into a piece of glass it bends, unless it goes straight
into the surface. (You've seen something just like this when you look
at things under water from above the water. ) Now the interesting thing
is that different colors of light bend different amounts. (I'll explain
why below in case your interested.) You don't notice that because in a
window the light bends back on the way out, so the different colors are
just barely shifted from another. Because the prism faces aren't
parallel, the bending on the way out doesn't just reverse the bending
on the way in. So different colors of light come out at different
angles, and gradually spread apart. Since a beam of white light is
actually made up of all the colors, you can see the different colors
because they all come out moving in different directions.
Light going through lenses does the same thing a little bit,
causing a problem called "chromatic aberration". The different colors
focus at slightly different points because they bend different amounts.
Why do different colors bend different amounts? The amount the
light bends depends on how much it slows down in the glass. How much it
slows down depends on how much its electromagnetic field shakes the
electrons in the glass. The electrons respond a little differently to
different frequencies of shaking, and different frequencies of light
means the same thing as different colors.
(published on 10/22/2007)
Follow-up on this answer.