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Physics LibreTexts

13.1: The Ray Model of Light

  • Page ID
    980
  • Ads for one Macintosh computer bragged that it could do an arithmetic calculation in less time than it took for the light to get from the screen to your eye. We find this impressive because of the contrast between the speed of light and the speeds at which we interact with physical objects in our environment. Perhaps it shouldn't surprise us, then, that Newton succeeded so well in explaining the motion of objects, but was far less successful with the study of light.

    The climax of our study of electricity and magnetism was discovery that light is an electromagnetic wave. Knowing this, however, is not the same as knowing everything about eyes and telescopes. In fact, the full description of light as a wave can be rather cumbersome. We will instead spend most of our treatment of optics making use of a simpler model of light, the ray model, which does a fine job in most practical situations. Not only that, but we will even backtrack a little and start with a discussion of basic ideas about light and vision that predated the discovery of electromagnetic waves.

    Contributors and Attributions

    Benjamin Crowell (Fullerton College). Conceptual Physics is copyrighted with a CC-BY-SA license.

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