Newton’s Prism Experiment

Newton’s Prism Experiment

(mechanical sound effects) – [Voiceover] In this video,
we’re going to look at the relationship between
white light and color by recreating a portion of
Newton’s prism experiment, as presented in a letter to
the Royal Society in 1671. But first, a little bit of background. At the time of his experiment, the prevailing theory was that white light was a color of light,
and that other colors could be created by modifying
the white light, somehow. For instance, this red piece of plastic would be described as
changing this white light into red light. They also had knowledge
about how light behaved at the boundary between two materials. For instance, a planar boundary, they knew that the ratio
of the sine of the angle on each side of the boundary was fixed for a given set of materials. We now know this was
a form of Snell’s Law, where the ratio of the sines of the angles is equal to the inverse ratio of the refractive indices of the materials, where the refractive index of the material is related to how fast
light propagates through it. This expression allows us to predict what’ll happen in that planar boundary as we change the angle of instance. It also allows us to deal
with more complicated shapes, like this triangular prism. It’s just a matter of geometry and keeping track of the angles. Newton was working on
designing lenses for telescopes when he decided to
investigate the phenomenon of prismatic colors. Those are the colors that occur when you pass white light through a prism. You obtain a triangular prism, and you pass some white light through it, and he saw a rainbow,
just like he expected. Then he noticed something, in the direction that
the colors were spread, the pattern was much
wider than it should be based on the system geometry if light obeyed this fixed sine ratio law. He did some experiments. He separated out individual
colors in the spectrum and passed them through additional prisms, but what he came to realize
was that all the colors in this spectrum are
their own form of light, and they all experience a
different refractive index upon travelling through these prisms. This led him to the conclusion that the white light entering the prism wasn’t really white, it was a combination of all these different colors. And that all the prism was doing was separating them on an angle by this varying refractive index. This was an interesting conclusion, but doesn’t really prove what’s happening because we’re still relying on this prism to make these colors. What we really need is an experiment where we can form these
colors from white light without a prism, and at
the end of his paper, Newton suggests just such an experiment. You start with the same
system you had before and then you place a lens in the system. We start with out screen close to the lens and we see the same
spectrum we saw before. Here is the light passing through the lens and up above it, we see the light that’s sort of skipping the top of the lens. As we move our screen away, the colors begin to
overlap until at one point, we see a band of white light. As we continue to move
the screen further away, we see the same spectrum
that we started with, but with the colors now reversed. As we move the screen in this experiment, there’s nothing to cause
this change of color that we’re observing. The only thing that’s changing is the overlap of the colors. We can conclude that when we
perceive this white light, what we’re really seeing is a whole bunch of colors added together. It turns out that you don’t actually need all of these colors to trick
your eyes into seeing white. If you’re watching this on a TV screen or a computer screen at home, what you’re seeing as white is actually a combination of red, blue, and green. But for our purposes, we’re seeing the sum of all the colors in the input spectrum. Okay, that’s pretty neat. We start off with white light, we form a spectrum of color, and then we use a lens to
combine it back into white light. But it only really combines
it into white light at one spot, if we go
further away from the lens and closer to the lens, it’s
still clearly a spectrum. Is there a way to combine this white light so that we get a beam of white light sort of like we had at the input? It turns out, the answer is “Yes.” But it’s a little more
complicated than you would expect. A lot of books draw this system, where we start with out original prism, then we put a second one
in, something like this. To our eyes, this looks like it’s working, but it’s not, really. All that’s really happening is, the white hasn’t had
enough time to spread, so it looks like it’s white, but if you add a very
sensitive instrument, you’d be able to tell
that there’s a change in color across this. You can see it more clearly by eye if we place this prism further down. Over here, it’s clear that there’s a change in color across
the width of the beam. If you really want to
make a beam of white light from this colored spectrum, you can follow the method
outlined in Newton’s Optics. This comes from his last
experiment in book one. You start with the prism
that we had before. Then you add a lens to the system, and you want this length to be roughly twice the focal length of the lens. At some distance away from
the lens, open another prism. And this distance, again, should be roughly twice the focal length. We adjust the prism, and what see is a reasonable
approximation of white light. You really should build this system with a much larger focal-length lens, and should build a much wider system to get a really good separation between these colors, here. And a very clear white beam at the output. But for this video, this’ll work. Thank you for watching. I hope you found this
material interesting. If you’d like to learn more about Newton’s optics experiments, I’d recommend two resources online. One is the Project Gutenberg, where you can find a copy
of Newton’s book, “Optics”. The other is the Newton Project, where you can find a copy
of most of Newton’s papers.

100 thoughts on “Newton’s Prism Experiment

  1. I still don't understand why the triangle shape (section of the prism) separate the colors and the rectangle or square don't, we can see only a refraction? In another words, how the photon knows the glass has different shapes and decide to take different directions?

  2. is there any artificial source of white light that you know of that can be used to accomplish this experiment well? If so, what is it, and how would you set it up? I have not found a good way to adequately collimate light from an incandescent source. Thank you.

  3. Müfredatı sikiyim amk yansımalark öğrettiler bunu gördüm aklıma gelmedi acaba 1 sene geçti üstünden ondan mı ki ??

  4. when the screen is moved is it because of the lens's focus length is the light again appears white or is it because of some other reason?

  5. I to everyone who cant figure out how he got a beam of white light. Its clearly sunlight. its the best light for this and the beam can be created by a couple pieces of cardboard over your window. or just barley crack your curtains if you have dark enough curtains to block most of the light.

  6. Aynı şekilde telefon el feneriyle öğrencilerine anlatmaya calışan bizim hocayı gördünüz mü işte eğitim farkı

  7. So what would the color pattern project with a 2 dimensional square or round slit of white light? In looking at the sunlight projecting a curious pattern through the square shaped beveled glass on my front door this morning. Top down-violet, blue, white(center of glass is flat,1/2" beveled edges, 1/4" pane)yellow,red. Left to right looking with the light, red, yellow, white, blue, violet. WHY is red or violet not the initial edge color of the symetrical square beveled glass? …….with respective colors following as the square beveled glass thickens towards the middle? The glass is symetrical BUT the refraction is not. Anyone? Thank you

  8. This is some screwed up crap. 2:00 it talks about how white light is made of 2 lights, because half work one way, and the other half work another. And solid proof that white light has 2 lights, like the sun as in one light and the moon as the second light and both above your heads. No proof what so ever to show how red, orange and yellow make white, just one end of the color spectrum.

  9. Hey I had a doubt..
    At 1.48
    Why does the refracted ray(before the screen is kept) is still white?why cant we see the VIBGYOR in mid air also?

  10. It would be cool if he blew smoke onto the beam to see the smoke illuminated in different colors and showing the light path as the colors separate

  11. Every colour has a different wave length, but bundled it only has one, the white one. – am I right in thinking this way ? Is there a theorem for that phenomen ? – please let me know. 😉

  12. Me: Learning about colors and light at school

    Youtube recommendation: Heres a video about Newton’s Prism experiment

    Me: How the fuck did you know!!!!

  13. did you notice that …why no black color init. which color of death for stars in the sky..and dark is silance of universe.. the color whic not included in the light its dark and for humans its visulaized as night or death when we close our eyes. or finally zero code color.. so zero has its own value..without dark,light cant be specialized.. dark is very special color.

  14. It's not white light dumbo, we actually perceive it as colorless light , this means light has no color and infinite colors at the same time. This means, 0=∞, we are in an illusion guys.

  15. So if you had torches that were the colours of the spectrum and shone them all at one spot you would see a white light?

  16. I wonder if the light that the Moon reflects has the same spectrum with white and yellow shine than the Sun?

  17. Maybe the wave frequentie of the white light gets disturbed by the prism and goes on in different waves with every wave an other frequency and that makes us see the rainbow, eventualy the waves meet eachother and form white ligt again only to be disturbed again and move on with again the different waves and frequenties

    Just a thougt

  18. Are there other materials other that glass that can be uses as a prism? If so Are the molecular arrangements similar?

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