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Paper I:

Derive the law of reflection and the law of refraction from Fermat’s Principle

Li Shengchen International School of Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications (December 5, 2008)

Preface

As all of us concern, the Fermat’s Principle is a famous law which is derived by Fermat in 17 century. It says light travels between two points along that path which requires the least time, as compared to other nearby paths. It is one of the general principles of light path from one point to another. However, for the junior students, they seldom know about

December 5th, 2008

Composed by Li Shengchen

2 Derive the law of reflection and the law of refraction from Fermat’s Principle

Fermat’s Principle, they study other two laws instead. They are called the law of reflection and the law of refraction. In fact, these laws are just some applications of Fermat’s Principles. In this paper, we will show the proof of them by using Fermat’s Principle.

The proof of the law of reflection

The law of reflection said, (In Figure 1), for a light ray traveling in air and incident on a smooth surface, the angle of reflection equals the angle of incidence.

Figure 1

Composed by Li Shengchen December 5, 2008

Derive the law 3 reflection and the law of refraction from Fermat’s of Principle

As the figure shows, the blue angle is angle of incident, the red angle is angle of reflection, the incident ray travels in path r1 and the reflected ray travels in path r2. All the distance between points will be used in the following proof, labeled a, x, y, b, is in the figure as well. The normal line is normal with the ground.

As we can easily get, the length of r1 and r2 are:

r1=x2+a2, r2=(y-x)2+b2

Obvious, since all the path is in the same medium, there is no harm to assume the speed of light is c. Then, the time that the light travels r1 and r2 can be

**expressed as: t=x2+a2c+(y-x)2+b2c
**

Now, as the Fermat’s Principle says, we need to find the minimum time the light is able to travel along path r1 and r2. We can just find the differential of t with respect to

**x (a, b, c, y are constants) and make the differential equals to 0. They we can get, dtdx=xx2+a2-y-x(y-x)2+b2=0
**

That is

xx2+a2=y-x(y-x)2+b2

From the figure 1, we can see

cosθ=cosϑ

December 5th, 2008

Composed by Li Shengchen

4 Derive the law of reflection and the law of refraction from Fermat’s Principle

Where θ is the green angle in the figure and ϑ is the brown one. Then we have proved that the green angle is equal to the brown angle. Thus, the blue angle is equal to the red angle or the angle of reflection equals the angle of incidence.

The proof is finished.

The proof of the law of refraction

Snell’s law of refraction states that n1sinθ1=n2sinθ2 where n1 and n2 are the indices of refraction in the two media. The incident ray, the reflected ray, the refracted ray, and the normal to the surface all lie in the same plane.

Figure 2

Composed by Li Shengchen December 5, 2008

Derive the law 5 reflection and the law of refraction from Fermat’s of Principle

We can find in Figure 2 that a light is supposed to travel in path r1 and r2. The indices of refraction of these two mediums are n1 and n2 respectively. All the angles and length of router is labeled with a, b, d, x and a, b, d are constants. By the basic knowledge and with the same reason, we can derive a expression of the time that light travels by path r1 and r2 that is t(x)=r1v1+r2v2=a2+x2cn1+b2+(d-x)2cn2 And now we are going to find the extreme value of t or t(x). By the knowledge of advanced mathematics, we know that in order to gain a extreme value of t, we should find the a point such that t’(x)=0, that is, dtdx=n1xca2+x2-n2(d-x)cb2+(d-x)2=0 Or n1∙xa2+x2=(d-x)b2+(d-x)2∙n2 From Figure 2, we can see that sinθ1=xa2+x2, andsinθ2=(d-x)b2+(d-x)2 That is to say n1sinθ1=n2sinθ2 The proof is finished.

December 5th, 2008

Composed by Li Shengchen

6 Derive the law of reflection and the law of refraction from Fermat’s Principle

Conclusion

From the process of proof, we can see that these two basic optical laws we have learnt in junior school are just two further conclusion of Fermat’s Principle. And the method of proving is pretty similar. It is sure that from Fermat’s principle, we can derive more complex conclusions.

Reference

University Physics, Chapter 35 (Provided by Professor Jin)

Composed by Li Shengchen December 5, 2008

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