Reflection of Light

Section Overview:

Reflection of light (and other forms of electromagnetic radiation) occurs when the waves encounter a surface or other boundary that does not absorb the energy of the radiation and bounces the waves away from the surface. The simplest example of visible light reflection is the surface of a smooth pool of water, where the light is reflected in an orderly manner to produce a clear image of the scenery surrounding the pool. Throw a rock into the pool, and the water is perturbed to form waves, which disrupt the reflection by scattering the incident and reflected light.

The reflection of visible light is a property of the behavior of light that is fundamental in the function of all modern microscopes. Light is often reflected by one or more plane (or flat) mirrors within the microscope to direct the light path through lenses that form the virtual images we see in the oculars (eyepieces). Microscopes also make use of beamsplitters to allow some light to be reflected while simultaneously transmitting other light to different parts of the optical system. Other optical components in the microscope, such as specially designed prisms, filters, and lens coatings, also carry out their functions in forming the image with a crucial reliance on the phenomenon of light reflection.

Review Articles

Introduction to the Reflection of Light

Light can behave in some ways as a wave and in other ways as if it were composed of particles, several independent theories of light reflection have emerged. Regardless of whether light is acting as particles or waves, however, the result of reflection is the same. The reflected light produces a mirror image.

Interactive Tutorials

Selected Literature References

Reference Listing

The reference materials listed in this section are an excellent source of additional information on the diverse topic of reflection from both specular and diffuse surfaces. Included are references to books, book chapters, and review articles, which discuss the theory and applications of the reflection of electromagnetic radiation and how they relate to the physics of light and color.

Contributing Authors

Matthew J. Parry-Hill, Robert T. Sutter, and Michael W. Davidson - National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, 1800 East Paul Dirac Dr., The Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida, 32310.