MCAT Physics Question — Angle of Refraction
 by
 Jul 16, 2014
 MCAT Blog, MCAT Physics, MCAT Question of the Day
Light exits a Sylgard 184 silicone elastomer, index of refraction = 1.4, into air, index of refraction = 1, with an angle of incidence of 30°. What is the angle of refraction in the air on the other side of the Sylgard/air interface?
a) 30°
b) 45°
c) 60°
d) No refraction, the light is totally reflected internally.
Explanation
This problem is solved using Snell’s law: η_{1}sinθ_{1 }= η_{2}sinθ_{2}. On the MCAT, if you are asked to perform a Snell’s law problem, the angles will be angles with which you are familiar: think 30/60/90 triangles and 45/45/90 triangles. Sin30º=1/2, and 1.4 is roughly √2, therefore the right side of the equation is √2/2. The left side of the equation is sinθ_{1}. The angle for which the sin is √2/2 is 45°.
Total internal reflection occurs when the angle of refraction exceeds 90°, and sin90° = 1. For this problem, this would occur at an incident angle of 1.4sinθ_{i }= 1sin90°. Sinθ_{i} = 1/1.4 = 0.71. θ_{i} for total internal reflection is 45°.
a) 30°, incorrect, At an interface between two different indices of refraction the angle of refraction cannot equal the angle of incidence.
b) 45°, correct.
c) 60°, incorrect.
d) No refraction, the light is totally reflected internally. Incorrect, see explanation above.
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