General Science Optics Flash Card Set 459517

Cards 10
Focus Optics
Topics Curved Lenses, Curved Mirrors, Light Waves, Reflection, Refraction, Refractive Index

Study Guide

Curved Lenses

Unlike curved mirrors that operate on the principle of reflection, lenses utilize refraction. A convex lens is thicker in the middle than on the edges and converges light while a concave lens is thicker on the edges than in the middle and diffuses light. A common use for curved lenses is in eye glasses where a convex lens is used to correct farsightedness and a concave lens is used to correct nearsightedness.

Curved Mirrors

A concave (or converging) mirror bulges inward and focuses reflected light on the mirror's focal point where the mirror's angles of incidence converge. In contrast, a convex (or diverging) mirror bulges outward and diffuses the light waves that strike it. A common use of a concave mirror is in a reflecting telescope, a common use of a convex mirror is in the side view mirror of a car.

Light Waves

Unlike mechanical sound waves that require a physical medium for propagation, light waves are electromagnetic and can travel through empty space. Light waves are also much faster, travelling at 186,000 m/s vs. 343 m/s for sound waves.


The law of reflection specifies how waves, including light waves, bounce off of surfaces. Specifically, the angle of incidence of the approaching wave is equal to the angle of reflection of the reflected wave as measured from a line perpendicular (90°) to the surface.


Because different materials have different refractive indices, light changes speed when passing from one material to another. This causes the light to bend (refraction) at an angle that depends on the change in refractive index between the materials. The greater the difference, the higher the angle of refraction.

Refractive Index

The speed of light varies based on the material that the waves are passing through. The refractive index of a material indicates how easily light travels through it compared to how easily light travels through a vacuum. For example, the refractive index of water is 1.33, meaning that light travels 1.33 times faster in a vacuum than it does in water.