Difficulty7 – 9 TimerequiredShort (several days)PrerequisitesNoneMaterialAvailabilityReadily availableCostLow ($20–$50)Safety
Adult supervision recommended. Evenlow-power lasers can causepermanent eye damage. Pleasecarefully review and follow the
The objective of this experiment is to see if sugarconcentrations in water can be determined using theindex of refraction of the solution.
No doubt you have noticed the odd"bending" effect that you see when you put astraw (or pencil) in a glass of water. Thewater refracts the light, so the straw appearsto bend at an angle when you look at theinterface between the air and the water.Compare the two images in Figure 1 and seeif you notice anything different betweenthem.
Figure 1. These two images illustrate refraction byliquids. Which glass contains plain water, and whichglass contains sugar-water? (Wood, 2003)(Images ©Robin Wood, 2003, used with permission.)Snell's Law describes the physics of refraction (seeFigure 2, below). If we follow a light ray (red) as itpasses from air to water, we can see how the lightbends. Air and water each have a different
index of refraction
(symbolized by the variable
). Snell'sLaw describes the angle of refraction of alight ray in terms of the angle of incidenceand the index of refraction of each of thematerials through which the light is passing(air and water in this case).
Figure 2. Illustration of Snell's Law (Wood, 2003).(Image © Robin Wood, 2003, used with permission.)In optics, angles are measured from a lineperpendicular to the surface with which the light isinteracting. This line is called the
, orsimply, the
(dashed gray line in Figure 2). Theangle of incidence,
, and the angle of refraction,
,are shown in Figure 2. Snell's Law says that the relativeindex of refraction of the two materials (
) isequal to the the sine of the angle of incidence (sine
)divided by the sine of the angle of refraction (sine
).What Snell's Law tells us is that the greater the relativeindex of refraction, the more the light bends. The indexof refraction of a liquid depends on the density of theliquid. Dissolving sugar in water results in a solutionwith density greater than that of water alone. Sincesugar water is more dense than plain water, sugarwater should have a higher index of refraction thanplain water. In Figure 1, one glass has plain water andthe other glass has sugar water. Can you tell which iswhich?
In this project, we'll show you how to use thephysics of refraction to measure the sugarcontent of a clear liquid solution (e.g., apple juice, or a clear soda drink). You'll use a laserpointer and a hollow glass prism (which we'llshow you how to make). Figure 3 shows adiagram of the setup.
Figure 3. Diagram of setup for measuring the index of refraction of a liquid using a laser pointer and a hollowtriangular prism (not to scale; based on the diagram inNierer, 2002).When there is no liquid in the prism, the laser light(dotted red line) will shine straight through to a wall(solid black line). When the prism is filled with liquid,the laser light will be refracted (solid blue and redlines). The angle of deviation will be at a minimumwhen the light passing through the prism (solid blueline) is parallel to the base of the prism. You'll have torotate the prism just right so that this is true. Thenyou'll measure two distances,
, and use them tocalculate the angle of minimum deviation. From thisangle, you can calculate the index of refraction.Equation 1
is the formula for doing this.
Equation 1 looks complicated at first, but it's actuallynot so bad.
is the angle of minimum deviation,which you will measure (we'll show you how in theExperimental Procedure section).
is the apex angleof the prism. Since the prism is an equilateral triangle,the apex angle is 60°. In equation 2, we've substituted60° for
. In equation 3, we've substituted thenumerical value of the index of refraction of air(
= 1.00028). The sine of 30° is 0.5, so we've madethat substitution in equation 3. Finally, we simplify thenumerical terms to produce Equation 4, which is theone you will use. Plug in your measured value for
,add 60°, and multiply the result by one-half. Then takethe sine of the result, and multiply by 2.00056, andyou'll have the desired index of refraction.
Terms, Concepts and Questions to StartBackground Research
To do this project, you should do research that enablesyou to understand the following terms and concepts:index of refraction,density,prism,Snell's law.
Here are some online sources of information on Snell'sLaw. Although you only need a basic understanding of how Snell's Law works for this project, more advanced