When waves cross a boundary between two materials, there is a change of speed called refraction.

If the direction of the wave is at an angle other than the normal line, then a change in direction occurs.


The change in speed is described by the refractive index, n of the material.

n is given by: n = cv / cm

where cv is the speed of light in a vacuum, and cm the speed of light in the material in question. n is unitless.

The refractive index between two materials is: 1n2

It is the ratio of speed of light in material 1, to the speed of light in material 2, and is given by:

 1n2 = c1/c2 = n1/n2

Snell’s Law states:

sini /sinr = c1/c2 = 1n2

From Snell’s law, the angle of refraction can be calculated if the refractive index of the two materials is known. The refractive index can be calculated from the sin of the angles of the light measured in the materials.