Difference between Reflection and Refraction



When light encounters a boundary between two different media, such as air and water, it undergoes various phenomena. Two of the most common phenomena are reflection and refraction. In this article, we will explore the differences between reflection and refraction, how they occur, and their practical applications in everyday life.


Reflection is the phenomenon where light bounces off a surface it encounters. The angle at which the incoming light ray strikes the surface is equal to the angle at which the reflected light ray leaves the surface. This principle is known as the law of reflection.

Law of Reflection

The law of reflection states that the angle of incidence (θi) is equal to the angle of reflection (θr). This can be mathematically represented as:

θi = θr

For example, if a light ray strikes a mirror surface at a 30-degree angle, it will be reflected at a 30-degree angle on the other side of the normal (an imaginary line perpendicular to the surface).

Types of Reflection

There are two types of reflection:

  • Regular Reflection: Regular reflection occurs when the surface is smooth and the reflected rays are parallel to each other. This type of reflection is observed when light falls on a polished surface like a mirror.
  • Diffuse Reflection: Diffuse reflection occurs when the surface is rough and the reflected rays scatter in different directions. This type of reflection is observed when light falls on surfaces like paper or a wall.

Difference between Reflection,Refraction, and Diffraction


Refraction is the phenomenon where light bends or changes direction as it passes from one medium to another. This bending occurs due to the change in the speed of light when it enters a different medium.

Snell’s Law

The bending of light during refraction is governed by Snell’s law, which states that the ratio of the sine of the angle of incidence (θi) to the sine of the angle of refraction (θr) is constant for a given pair of media. Mathematically, it can be expressed as:

sin(θi) / sin(θr) = n2 / n1

Where n1 and n2 are the refractive indices of the two media.

Refractive Index

The refractive index of a medium is a measure of how much light slows down when it enters that medium compared to its speed in a vacuum. It is denoted by the symbol ‘n’ and is defined as the ratio of the speed of light in a vacuum to the speed of light in the medium.

n = c / v

Where c is the speed of light in a vacuum and v is the speed of light in the medium.

Applications of Refraction

Refraction has various practical applications, including:

  • Lenses: Refraction plays a crucial role in the functioning of lenses, such as those in eyeglasses, microscopes, and cameras. Lenses use the bending of light to focus or diverge rays to form clear images.
  • Prisms: Prisms utilize refraction to separate white light into its constituent colors, creating a rainbow effect.
  • Optical Fibers: Optical fibers are thin strands of glass or plastic that use refraction to transmit light signals over long distances, making them essential in telecommunications and internet connectivity.


Reflection and refraction are both fundamental phenomena of light that occur when it interacts with different media. Reflection involves the bouncing off of light rays from a surface, while refraction involves the bending of light as it passes through different media. Understanding these phenomena and their applications helps us comprehend the behavior of light and utilize it in various practical ways.

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