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A 523782

A 523782

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Virtual tunnels and green glass: The colors of common mirrors
Raymond L. Lee, Jr.
a)
 Mathematics and Science Division, United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland 21402
Javier Herna´ndez-Andre´s
 Departamento de O´  ptica, Facultad de Ciencias, Universidad de Granada, Granada 18071, Spain
͑
Received 10 February 2003; accepted 25 July 2003
͒
When a pair of common second-surface plane mirrors face each other, repeated mirror-to-mirrorreflections form a virtual optical tunnel with some unusual properties. One property readily analyzedin a student experiment is that the color of objects becomes darker and greener the deeper we look into the mirror tunnel. This simple observation is both visually compelling and physicallyinstructive: measuring and modeling a tunnel’s colors requires students to blend colorimetry andspectrophotometry with a knowledge of how complex refractive indices and the Fresnel equationspredict reflectance spectra of composite materials. ©
2004 American Association of Physics Teachers.
͓
DOI: 10.1119/1.1615524
͔
I. INTRODUCTION
Across the centuries, mirrors have given us windows ontounusual worlds. Some of these worlds are as familiar as theyare fundamentally odd: the one that lets us see our own faceor the one that shows us a transposed twin of the room inwhich we stand. Yet the oddest mirror world may be the onefound between two plane mirrors that face each other. If these mirrors are parallel
͑
or nearly so
͒
, then looking intoeither of them brings us to the vertiginous edge of a visualtunnel that seems to recede endlessly into the virtual dis-tance.We call this phenomenon of repeated mirror reflections a
mirror tunnel
, and here we are interested in how one formedby two common mirrors transforms the colors of reflectedobjects.
͑
We define
common mirrors
as inexpensive second-surface plane mirrors such as those found in homes.
͒
Under-standing these transformations can teach students not onlyabout geometrical optics and spectral transfer functions, butalso how knowing the complex refractive indices of themetal backing and glass in such mirrors lets us predict theirreflectance spectra via the Fresnel equations.
1
In a studentexperiment, two especially instructive
͑
and surprising
͒
re-sults are that common mirrors are not spectrally neutral re-flectors, and their reflectance spectra depend on the absorb-ing and reflecting properties of both the glass substrate andits metal backing.Because mirror tunnels are so visually compelling, we usethem as a pedagogical tool in this paper. In Sec. II we de-scribe how to set up a mirror tunnel and observe its colorshifts, and in Sec. III we discuss the measured reflectancespectra of some common mirrors and show how we use suchspectra to calculate the chromaticity trends seen in mirrortunnels. In Sec. IV we use existing data on the complexrefractive indices of silver and soda–lime silica glasses in asimple model that calculates the reflectance spectra and chro-maticities for these mirrors. At a minimum, students shouldalready be familiar with the optical significance of the mate-rialsabsorption, reflection, and transmission spectra. Fordeeper insights, they also should understand how such purelyphysical properties are translated into the psychophysicalmetric of colorimetry. A very readable introduction to thecolorimetric system of the Commission Internationale del’Eclairage
͑
CIE
͒
is given in Ref. 2.
II. THE MIRROR TUNNEL DEMONSTRATION
One well-designed mirror tunnel is seen in Granada,Spain’s Science Museum.
3
This virtual tunnel is producedsimply by placing two tall mirrors parallel to and facing eachother
͑
see Fig. 1
͒
. Viewers look at one mirror through twosmall holes in the back of the other mirror; the holes arespaced to match the average distance between human eyes.This viewing geometry avoids the problem that can occur if the viewer’s head is between the two mirrors, where it canblock the angularly smallest, most interesting regions of themirror tunnel.On looking through the eyeholes, one sees a long progres-sion of ever-smaller reflected images of the two mirrors thatplunges into the virtual distance, thus giving the illusion of an infinite tunnel
͑
Fig. 2
͒
. If the mirrors are not exactly par-allel
͑
as is true in Fig. 2
͒
, then the tunnel curves in the samedirection that the mirrors tilt toward each other.
4
After relish-ing the vertiginous thrill of this virtual tunnel, we find an-other, subtler feature: the farther we look into the tunnel, thegreener and darker its reflected objects appear. To track thiscolor and brightness shift in Fig. 2, we put a photographer’sgray card at the base of one mirror. Although the card’s im-age becomes progressively darker and more yellow–greenwith successive reflections, no such shifts occur for distantreal objects seen by a single reflection in either mirror.This simple observation lies at the heart of our paper, andit begs the question that students must answer: why do re-peated reflections change the mirror imagescolor andbrightness? Geometrical optics is silent on this point, be-cause it predicts only the images’ location and size. Thus, toexplain the brightness and color changes, we must considerthe physical optics of common mirrors. Because color de-pends on spectral variability, we start by examining the spec-tral reflectances and transmissivities of the metal and glassused to make these mirrors.
III. MEASURED REFLECTANCE SPECTRAAND COLORS OF COMMON MIRRORS
Common household mirrors have long been made by de-positing a thin film of crystalline silver on the rear surface of float-process flat glass.
5
This silver film is optically thick 
͑
minimum thickness
ϳ
10
␮ 
m
͒
, and its rear surface is pro-tected from oxidation and abrasion by successive films of 
53 53Am. J. Phys.
72
͑
1
͒
, January 2004 http://aapt.org/ajp © 2004 American Association of Physics Teachers
 
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Standard Form 298 (Rev. 8-98)
 Prescribed by ANSI Std Z39-18
 
copper and lacquer. The polished glass itself is usually clearsoda–lime silica whose constituents
͑
by weight
͒
are about72% SiO
2
, 14% Na
2
O (
ϩ
K
2
O), 9% CaO, 3% MgO, 1%Al
2
O
3
, and variable, smaller amounts of Fe
2
O
3
͑
Ͻ
1%
͒
.
6,7
Other backing metals
͑
for example, aluminum
͒
and special‘‘colorless’’
͑
that is, lower iron oxide content
͒
or tinted glasscan be used to change a mirror’s reflectance spectrum appre-ciably.Nonetheless, a soda–lime silica glass substrate with silverbacking forms the optical core of most common mirrors.Figure 3 shows the reflectance and transmission spectra of these two materials in air at visible wavelengths
(380
рр
780 nm).
8,9
Although the glass transmits most at 510 nm
͑
a green
͒
, its broad transmission maximum only imparts apastel greenish cast to white light, even after it has beentransmitted through several centimeters of the glass. Thisgreenish cast is best seen by looking obliquely through aplate of common glass, bearing in mind that refractive dis-persion can complicate the colors that students see. In otherwords, students should learn to distinguish between the uni-form green or blue–green that results from glass absorptionand the many prismatic colors that result from glass refrac-tion. In contrast, although Fig. 3’s silver spectrum shows afairly steep decrease in spectral reflectance
R
below 460nm, at longer wavelengths the metal reflects much morespectrally uniformly.When we form a composite common mirror from thesetwo materials, what reflectance spectra result? Figure 4shows some representative spectra both from Granada’s Sci-ence Museum mirrors and from common mirrors in our ownlaboratories and homes (400
рр
700 nm, measured in 10or 5 nm steps
͒
. We measured these spectra at normal inci-dence using either of two portable spectrophotometers: a Mi-nolta CM-2022 or a HunterLab UltraScan.
10
In Fig. 4, allspectral reflectances except those labeled ‘‘
 R
͑
lab 1
͒
’’ weremeasured with the Minolta CM-2022. Given the instruments’designs, these spectra necessarily include both externalspecular reflections from the mirror glass and multiple reflec-tions from within the mirror.One of Fig. 4’s most striking features is how much theoverall reflectance
R
varies from mirror to mirror
͑
and, asour measurements show, even within a given mirror
͒
; mean
 R
values range from 80.5% for the ‘‘museum 1’’ mirror to95.6% for the ‘‘home 2’’ mirror. Although some of this vari-ability may be attributed to spectrophotometer errors, morevariability likely comes from differences in the mirrors’original fabrication.Nevertheless, Fig. 4’s spectra all have similar shapes: theypeak on average at 545 nm, a yellowish green. To restatethese spectral differences in colorimetric terms, after a singlereflection of a spectrally flat illuminant
͑
the equal-energyspectrum
͒
,
11
the
most 
dissimilar mirrors in Fig. 4
͑
the mu-seum 1 and home 2 mirrors
͒
slightly change that illuminant’scolor into two new colors. However, these two colors differby only 14% more than the local MacAdam just-noticeable
Fig. 1. Schematic diagram of the mirrors used to produce the virtual mirrortunnel photographed in Fig. 2. The circles on the right mirror are eyeholesthrough which observers view the mirror tunnel.Fig. 2. Mirror tunnel photographed at the Science Museum in Granada,Spain. The large white circle framing the mirror tunnel is one of Fig. 1’seyeholes, which also appear as small dark circles within the tunnel itself.Fig. 3. Normal-incidence spectral reflectances
R
for optically thick silverand spectral transmissivities
for a 5 mm thick layer of nominally clearsoda–lime silica (SiO
2
) glass. The optical properties of each material areconsidered separately here
͑
that is, they are not combined as a mirror
͒
, andthe incident medium is air.54 54Am. J. Phys., Vol. 72, No. 1, January 2004 R. L. Lee, Jr. and J. Herna´ndez-Andre´s

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