Study Guide

Optics Introduction

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Optics Introduction

Optics explains why oranges are orange.

We need more to arouse your interest? Ok, optics also explains what it takes to be invisible and why wearing black in the sun makes us hot (Temperature hot! Optics, unfortunately, does not provide the road map to George Clooney-esque hotness). Intrigued yet?

All of us have, at one point or another, used many of the concepts in this chapter, whether it was torturing a bug using a lens to focus sunlight or by shooting Aliens or popping balloons in a video game. Optics has been our friend all along, so there's no need to be intimidated by it now.

In a nutshell, optics is all about reflection, refraction, and transmission of light off, on, and through various mediums. And no, it's nothing like a car transmission. That's another course.

We will learn about different types of lenses and how they bend light. We'll learn how to predict the path of light as it moves from one object into another. And we'll learn how to stand relative to a mirror so that our image appears tiny and upside down.

This guide won't explain in detail how light can be both a particle and a wave at the same time, but most physicists believe that if you think you understand that, then you don't truly understand it. Confused about the particle/wave thing? We are, but luckily, this learning guide won't be confusing at all.

Optics Resources


Young's Double Slit Experiment
Just in case we missed it during the optics chapter, here it is again: the Young experiment at our fingertips with no set-up involved.

Looking Through Walls
What do we really see when we see things? Minds will be blown.

How do Lasers Work?
Minute Physics has this thing down. Lasers are advanced optical instruments, requiring math above and beyond what we learned thus far, yet we can understand the principles.

Fast, Then Slow, Then Fast
Why does light slow down when it travels through glass? We've always wondered.

Magic Mirror
Mirrors show off their moves in this Science Theater video. Next stop: Broadway!

Games and Tools

Playing with Lasers
This online video game is for the puzzle solvers who know the basics of optics. Use mirrors and lenses to guide a laser beam through mazes. Gamers welcome.


Getting Zzz's in Space
Could using different wavelengths of light to make astronauts more alert or sleepy? Huh. We never thought about light's power by color before.

Rewiring of the World
Want to know more about how total internal reflection carries voices, pictures, and email messages in fiber optic cables? Now's our chance.

Make Your Own Magnifier
This may be a throwback to our preschool days but it's still awesome. Take a makeshift "microscope" out to a stream, a puddle, or a tide pool and start looking at all the creepy-crawlers we can't see by naked eye.

Pies in the Sky
Fighting climate change with a giant sunshade made of 16 trillion glass lenses, circling the Earth and refracting sunlight to bend it around our planet? Sounds like the stuff of science fiction.

Solar Bridges and the Bay Area
Using mirrors to reflect sunlight, scientists light up the Golden Gate Bridge for its 75th birthday. What a riot!

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