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What is refraction?

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Refraction is the change in a wave's direction when it encounters a change in its transmission medium. The process of refraction allows eyes and lenses to form images. When the wave's medium changes, the velocity of the wave changes, but its frequency remains the same.

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When light passes from a fast medium to a slower medium, refraction causes the light wave to bend. The amount of bending that takes place depends on the indices of refraction for the two different media. To calculate the index of refraction, the velocity of light in a vacuum is divided by the velocity of light in a given medium. Snell's Law describes the relationship between two different indices of refraction.

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Refraction occurs as light moves through the boundary between a fast medium and a slow medium. The transmission of light across the boundary causes the wave length and speed of the light wave to change.

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Refracting prisms take advantage of the fact that light makes changes in direction when passing from one material to another, but that different wavelengths bend different amounts. Thus, prisms can split white light, which is actually light made up of multiple wavelengths, coming in at one angle into its constituent colors going out at different angles. They can also do the opposite, condensing multiple color rays into one white ray.