Speed of Light vs Speed of Sound 

As seen in the previous section, the speed of sound is 340 ms−1  in air.  How does this compare to the speed of light ? 

In the previous section, it was assumed that light travelled Instantaneously from place to place. This is not the case! Light travels incredibly quickly, but does have a fixed speed:-

Speed of Sound = 340 m s−1

Speed of Light = 300,000,000 m s−1 or 3x108 m s−1

As can be seen, light is much much faster than sound and over short distances can be assumed to be instantaneous.

Over large distances, however, the speed of light does have an effect. 

For instance, it takes 8 minutes and 20 seconds for light from the Sun to reach Earth. 

Law of Reflection 

When a wave 'hits' an object, the wave can change direction and 'bounce off' the object. This is known as Reflection. 

There are two types of Reflection:-

1. Mirror Reflection - If the object has a very smooth surface, then all of the light is Reflected in the same way, making a mirror image.

2. Diffuse Reflection - If the object has a rough surface, then each ray of light will be Reflected in different directions, scattering the light. This is how most objects Reflect light.

When light hits a mirror, the ray of light is Reflected from its surface. The diagram below shows an example of this:-


θi = Incident angle (angle going in) in degrees.

θR = Reflected angle (angle coming out ) in degrees.

In Optics, all angles are measured from the same place, a line called the normal. This is a line at a right angle to the surface of the mirror. Never measure an angle from the mirror itself. 

By experiment, we can show that:-

" For a mirrored surface, The angle of incidence of a ray of light is equal to the angle of Reflection."

This is known as the law of Reflection. 

Curved Reflectors

If the mirror is curved instead of flat (plane), then an unusual effect can be seen. Each part of the curved surface acts as a tiny plane mirror, following the law of Reflection. With the right shape, all of the light hitting the mirror will be focused to a single point. 

This is how satellite dishes work. By Reflecting the signal all to the same point, the signal will be made stronger:-

Medical Illustrator

You would use your artistic skills to create images and take photos and videos of medical conditions and treatments. Your images would be used to train healthcare staff and to support medical research.

You’d create visual records of the care that patients receive. You’d make materials for medical teaching and research.

You would record a patient's condition using a digital camera or video. You’d take photographs so that medical staff can see the effectiveness of operations and treatments over a period of time.

Using specialist equipment and techniques, you’d capture 3-D images of structures like the eye, and record specific procedures.

For some jobs you would also; do forensic photography, taking photos of non-accidental injuries, copy evidence from slides and x-rays, do bereavement photography, taking photos for grieving family members.

Medical Illustrator

Training to be an Illustrator

A Career as a Medical Illustrator

Salary: from £22,000 to £55,000 per year

Illustrator working hours: 37.5 hours a week, Monday to Friday. You may sometimes need to be available for on-call duties and overtime. Job-sharing and part-time hours may also be possible.

Typical entry requirements: You would need a degree (SCQF level 9/10) in Photography followed by Postgraduate Certificate in Clinical Photography (SCQF level 11).

Certificate (SCQF level 7) or Higher National Diploma courses (SCQF level 8) with National 4/5 qualifications and one to two Highers or equivalent qualifications.

Entry to a degree (SCFQ level 9/10) requires National 5 qualifications and a minimum of four Higher or a relevant HNC/HND.

To enter a postgraduate qualification (SCFQ level 11) will usually require a relevant degree. There are no postgraduate courses in Scotland

Medical illustration is a small and specialised field and there is often a lot of competition for vacancies. 

Skills required:


Refraction is the process by which a ray of Light changes speed as it moves between materials of different density. This can cause a change in direction if the beam of light enters the object at an angle.

How to label Optics diagrams

The following diagram shows how to label all optics diagrams.

The most important line to draw on these diagrams in the Normal, a line drawn at right angles to the surface, which all angles are measured from. 

Rectangular Block 

The above diagram shows how the path of light is refracted by the rectangular block.

The diagram shows:-

1. Angle b is equal to angle c (they form a geometrical "Z angle").

2. Angle a is equal to angle d (as long as only two media are involved).

This is because:-

When the wave enters the more dense medium it slows down and is refracted towards the normal. 

When the wave enters the less dense medium it speeds up and it is refracted away from the normal.

Semi-Circular Block

In the rectangular block, refraction occurs twice, but in a semi-circular block refraction appears to occur only once. This is because the light entering the curved side of the block enters along the normal, so no change in direction occurs (But it still refracts- i.e. slows down). At the flat side, the beam hits at an angle, so refraction and a change of direction occurs.

The embedded website below allows a simulation of the effect of refraction when looking at objects under water:-

Triangular Prism

When a ray of white light passes through a Triangular Prism, the ray is refracted twice. The overall effect of these refractions is to cause the white light to be dispersed. This causes a spectrum to be observed. 


As an Optometrist, you would examine people’s eyes to check their vision and decide if they need glasses or contact lenses. You’d also look for defects, injuries and ill health.

Using your knowledge of eye diseases, if you detect abnormalities - including conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure - you would refer the person to specialists or ophthalmologists (eye surgeons).

You’d need to be able to work with precision and understand mathematical and scientific information. It would be important to keep up to date with new techniques and instruments.

Some people may be nervous so you’d need to put them at ease. You may need to carefully and clearly explain the process and instructions, especially with children.


Research Optometrist

A Career as an Optometrist

Salary: from £31,000 to £88,000 per year

Optometrist working hours: 37 and 40 hours a week, which may include some evening shifts. Part-time work is also available.

Typical entry requirements:You need an honours degree in optometry (SCQF level 10), a Certificate of Clinical Competency and/or registration with the General Optical Council (GOC).

To enter a optometry degree (SCQF level 9/10) at Glasgow Caledonian University requires National 5 qualifications and a minimum of five Highers at AABBB.

Skills required:


Convex Lens

Convex lenses are thicker in the middle than at the edges.

Convex lenses make the rays converge. The more curved the lens, the more refraction it causes. 

Concave Lens

Concave lenses are thinner in the middle than at the edges.

Concave lenses make the rays diverge. The more curved the lens, the more refraction it causes.

How Lenses Refract Light

Lens are curved, which means that light entering at different positions will enter the lens at different angles to the Normal. This means they will be refracted by different amounts. The shape of each lens can be approximated to appear like two objects we have already seen, the rectangular block and triangular prism. The diagrams below show how these approximations can help explain the path of light through each lens:-

Eye Defects

The diagram below shows the inside of a human eye, showing the major parts that allow vision:-

The key sections that allow vision are:-

Cornea - Transparent tough coat, most of refraction takes place here

Pupil - Gap at centre of Iris which allows light to enter the eye

Iris - Can alter the size of the Pupil to control how much light enters the eye

Lens - Flexible, has its shape altered by the ciliary muscles to focus light

Ciliary Muscles -  Muscles that change the Lens shape to change the focal length of the Eye.

Retina - Lining of the back of the eye, covered in light sensitive cells

Optic Nerve - Carries signals from the retina to the brain

In order for clear, crisp vision, light must be focused correctly such that the light is brought to a focus point on the retina. as shown in the diagram below:-

Correcting Sight Defects

In modern society, the wearing of glasses is commonplace. Their invention seems to have occurred during the late 1200s, but no one is really sure by whom. 

There is, however, anecdotal evidence written by Pliny the Elder in 79CE that the Emperor Nero used an Emerald to watch gladiatorial contests, possible to correct for short sightedness. 

The diagram above shows the effect of short sight on the rays of light entering the eye. Uncorrected, the lens is too powerful and the light is brought to a focus short of the retina, giving a blurry image.

By using a concave lens to diverge the light before it enters the eye, the light can be made to focus correctly on the retina. 

The diagram above shows the effect of long sight on the rays of light entering the eye. Uncorrected, the lens is too weak and the light is brought to a focus long of the retina, giving a blurry image.

By using a convex lens to converge the light before it enters the eye, the light can be made to focus correctly on the retina. 

The embedded website below allows a simulation of correction of eye defects by lenses :-


When a wave passes an object, the wave's path can be distorted by the object's edge, causing the edge of the wave to change direction. This is known as Diffraction. This can occur either at the edge of the object or passing through a gap in an object.

The wavelength of the wave affects how much diffraction occurs, the longer the wavelength, the more diffracton occurs. 

This has a practical effect on reception of waves in mountain valleys. 

The long wavelength radio signals diffract enough to reach the bottom of the valley, allowing radio reception. 

The shorter wavelength (microwave) mobile phone signals, do not diffract enough, and so at the bottom of the valley there is no mobile signal reception. 

When passing through a gap, the size of the gap affects the amount of diffraction experienced by a wave. 

Large Gap

A gap width much larger than the wavelength causes little spreading eg light waves passing through a doorway.

Small Gap

A gap width similar to the wavelength of the waves passing through causes a lot of diffraction, eg sound waves passing through a doorway.

The video below shows an overview of the light behaviours of Reflection, Refraction and Diffraction :-