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Refraction is an important behavior of light that can be used to explain the operation of lenses, prisms, and optical fiber, as well as natural phenomena such as rainbows and mirages. The index of refraction, or refractive index, is defined as the ratio of the speed of light in a vacuum to the speed of light in a material. The index of refraction is an important property of optical materials and one that can be easily measured in the laboratory.This lesson begins with a video that introduces the concept of refraction. Students learn firsthand how when a wave of light travels from one medium to another, the change in the wave's speed leads to a change in its wavelength and the bending of the wave. Next, students investigate index of refraction through an interactive media asset, research, and a class discussion. Following a video about the index of refraction and Snell's law, students work in groups to conduct their own laboratory experiment to measure the index of refraction of gelatin (or plastic).Note: This is the first of two optics lesson plans. You may want to follow this lesson with the Fiber Optics Lesson Plan.
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