Humboldt State University ® Department of Chemistry

Robert A. Paselk Scientific Instrument Museum

from: Everitt, Charles. "Refraction." The Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th Ed. vol. 23. The Encyclopedia Britannica Company, New York (1911) pp 26-27.
© 1998 R. Paselk

Refraction by a Prism. - In optics a prism is a piece of transparent material bounded by two plane faces which meet at a definite angle, called the refracting angle of the prism, in a straight line called the edge of the prism; a section perpendicular to the edge is called a principal section. Parallel rays, refracted successively at the two faces, emerge from the prism as a system of parallel rays, but the direction is altered by an amount called the deviation. The deviation depends on the angles of incidence and emergence; but, since the course of a ray may always be reversed, there must be a stationary value, either a maximum or minimum, when the ray traverses the prism symmetrically, i.e. when the angles of incidence and emergence are equal. As a matter of fact, it is a minimum, and the position is called the angle of minimum deviation. The relation between the minimum deviation D, the angle of the prism i, and the refractive index u is found as follows. Let in fig. 2, PQRS be the course of the
ray through the prism: the internal angleseach equal 1/2 i and the angles of incidence and emergenceare each equal and connected withby Snell's law, i.e.. Also the deviation D is. Hence.
Refractometers.-Instruments for determining the refractive indices of media are termed refractometers.
The simplest are really spectrometers, consisting of a glass prism, usually hollow and fitted with accurately parallel glass sides, mounted on a table which carries a fixed collimation tube and a movable observing tube, the motion of the latter being recorded on a graduated circle. The collimation tube has a narrow adiustable slit at its outer end and a lens at the nearer end, so that the light leaves the tube as a parallel beam. The refracting angle of the prism, i in our previous notation, is determined by placing the prism with its refracting edge towards the collimator, and observing when the reflections of the slit in the two prism faces coincide with the cross-wires in the observing telescope; half the angle between these two positions gives i. To determine the position of minimum deviation, or D, the prism is removed, and the observing telescope is brought into line with the slit; in this position the graduation is read. The prism is replaced, and the telescope moved until it catches the refracted rays. The prism is now turned about a vertical axis until a position is found when the telescope has to be moved towards the collimator in order to catch the rays; this operation sets the prism at the angle of minimum deviation. The refractive index u is calculated from the formula given above.
More readily manipulated and of superior accuracy are refractometers depending on total reflection. The Abbe refractometer (fig. 3) essentially consists of a double Abbe prism AB to contain the substance to be experimented with; and a telescope F to observe the border line of the total reflection. The prisms, which are right-angled and made of the same flint glass, are mounted in a hinged frame such that the lower prism, which is used for purposes of illumination, can be locked so that the hypothenuse faces are distant by about 0.15 mm., or rotated away from the upper prism. The double prism is used in examining liquids, a few drops being placed between prisms; the single prism is used when solids or plastic bodies are employed. The mount is capable of rotation about a horizontal axis by an alidade J. The telescope is provided with a reticule, which can be brought into exact coincidence with the observed border line, and is rigidly fastened to a sector S graduated directly in refractive indices. The reading is effected by a lens L. Beneath the prisms is a mirror for reflecting light
into the apparatus. To use the apparatus, the liquid having been inserted between the prisms, or the solid attached by its own adhesiveness or by a drop of monobromnaphthalene to the upper prism, the prism case is rotated until the field of view consists of a light and dark portion, and the border line is now brought into coincidence with the reticule of the telescope. In using a lamp or daylight this border is coloured , and hence a compensator, consisting of two equal Amici prisms, is placed between the objective and the prisms. These Amici prisms can be rotated, in opposite directions, until they produce a dispersion opposite in sign to that originally seen, and hence the border line now appears perfectly sharp and colourless. When at zero the alidade corresponds to a refractive index of 1.3, and any other reading gives the corresponding index correct to about 2 units in the 4th decimal place. Since temperature markedly affects the refractive index, this apparatus is provided with a device for heating the prisms. Figs. 4 and 5 show the course of the rays when a solid and liquid
are being experimented with. Dr R. Wollny's butter refractometer, also made by Zeiss, is constructed similarly to Abbe's form, with the exception that the prism casing is rigidly attached to the telescope, and the observation made by noting the point where the border line intersects an appropriately graduated scale in the focal plane of the telescope objective, fractions being read by a micrometer screw attached to the objective. This apparatus is also provided with an arrangement for heating.
This method of reading is also employed in Zeiss's "dipping refractometer " (fig. 6). This instrument consists of a telescope R having at its lower end a prism P with a refracting angle of 63° above which and below the objective is a movable compensator A for purposes of annulling the dispersion about the border line. In the focal plane of the objective 0 there is a scale Sc, exact reading being made by a micrometer Z. If a large quantity of liquid be
available it is sufficient to dip the refractometer perpendicularly into a beaker containing the liquid and to transmit light into the instrument by means of a mirror. If only a smaller quantity be available, it is enclosed in a metal beaker M, which forms an extension of the instrument, and the liquid is retained there by a plate D. The instrument is now placed in a trough B, containing water and having one side of ground glass G; light is reflected into the refractometer by means of a mirror S outside this trough. An accuracy Of 3.7 units in the 5th decimal place is obtainable.
The Pulfrich refractometer is also largely used, especially for liquids. It consists essentially of a right-angled glass prism placed on a metal foundation with the faces at right angles horizontal and vertical, the hypothenuse face being on the support. The horizontal face is fitted with a small cylindrical vessel to hold the liquid. Light is led to the prism at grazing incidence by means of a collimator, and is refracted through the vertical face, the deviation being observed by a telescope rotating about a graduated circle. From this the refractive index is readily calculated if the refractive index of the prism for the light used be known: a fact supplied by the maker. The instrument is also available for determining the refractive index of isotropic solids. A little of the solid is placed in the vessel and a mixture of monobromnaphthalene and acetone (in which the solid must be insoluble) is added and adjustment made by adding either one or other liquid until the border line appears sharp, i.e. until the liquid has the same index as the solid.
The Herbert Smith refractometer (fig. 7) is especially suitable for determining the refractive index of gems, a constant which is
most valuable in distinguishing the precious stones. It consists of a hemisphere of very dense glass, having its plane surface fixed at a certain angle to the axis of the instrument. Light is admitted by a window on the under side, which is inclined at the same angle, but in the opposite sense, to the axis. The light on emerging from the hemisphere is received by a convex lens, in the focal plane of which is a scale graduated to read directly in refractive indices. The light then traverses a positive eye-piece. To use the instrument for a gem, a few drops of methylene iodide (the refractive index of which may be raised to 1.800 by dissolving sulphur in it) are placed on the plane surface of the hemisphere and a facet of the stone then brought into contact with the surface. If monochromatic light be used (i.e. the D line of the sodium flame) the field is sharply divided into a light and a dark portion, and the position of the line of demarcation on the scale immediately gives the refractive index. It is necessary for the liquid to have a higher refractive index than the crystal, and also that there is close contact between the facet and the lens. The range of the instrument is between 1.400 and 1.760, the results being correct to two units in the third decimal place if sodium light be used. (C. E.*)

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