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Illustration 35.1: Lenses and the Thin-Lens Approximation

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Shown is an optics bench that allows you to add various optical elements (lens, mirror, and aperture) and light sources (beam, object, point source) and see their effect. Elements and sources can be added to the optics bench by clicking on the appropriate button and then clicking inside the animation at the desired location. Moving the mouse around in the animation gives you the position of the mouse, while a click-drag will allow you to measure angle (position is given in centimeters and angle is given in degrees).

Add a lens to the optics bench by clicking on the "Lens" button and then clicking inside the animation to place the lens. Adjust the focal point of the lens by dragging on the round hotspots. Notice that you can make the lens either converging or diverging. Make the lens converging with a focal length of 1cm and place it in the middle of the animation (x = 2.5 cm). Now add a source of light by clicking on the "Object" button and then clicking inside the animation. Place the object at x = 0.1 cm and give it a height of 0.5 cm. You can add other sources of light later.

Notice the rays emanating from the object, their refraction (bending), and the resulting image. Click the head of the arrow (the object) and move it around. First note that there are three rays that emanate from the head of the arrow. One ray comes off parallel to the principal axis (the yellow centerline) and is bent at the vertical centerline of the lens and then travels through the focal point on the far side of the lens, one ray comes off at an angle to hit the vertical centerline of the lens on the principal axis and is unrefracted, and one ray passes through the principal axis at the near focal point of the lens and is bent at the vertical centerline of the lens and comes off parallel to the principal axis.

Do the rays always behave as you expect them to? Probably not. As you drag the head of the source and change its height and position, what do you notice about the rays when they refract through the lens? The rays refract from the vertical centerline of the lens. If you click on the lens, you will see this line in blue. This animation uses what is called the thin-lens approximation. This approximation assumes that the lens is thin in comparison to its radius of curvature. In fact, in the thin-lens approximation, we take the thickness of the lens to be zero (this is why the refraction takes place at the vertical centerline of the lens). In a real lens, the rays from the object would form a real image to the right of the lens, but also a virtual image behind the object on the left of the lens.

The optics bench allows you to try many different configurations to see how light will interact with a lens. Take some time to play with the animation. You may also find it helpful to refer back to this Illustration as you develop your understanding of optics. A brief description of the three sources is given below.

Problem authored by Mario Belloni and Melissa Dancy.

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