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Lens Science: Exploring Light with Gelatin Lenses
written by Rebecca E. Vieyra
sub author: Caroline Hall
This lesson blends physics, geometric optics, and biology as students explore light refraction through convex and concave "lenses" made of clear gelatin. The activity promotes understanding of four key concepts: 1) convex lenses cause light to converge, while concave cause divergence; 2) Focal length can be determined from the convergence point of a convex lens; 3) Ray diagrams provide a geometric way to depict the path of light through a transparent object; and 4) The malleable gelatin lenses can model the function of the human eye.

This AAPT Lesson Plan was inspired by two articles in The Physics Teacher magazine: "Edible Optics: Using Gelatin to Demonstrate Properties of Light" by Patrick Bunton, and "Construction of Optical Elements with Gelatin" by Mario Branca and Isabella Soletta.
Subjects Levels Resource Types
- Geometrical Optics
= Straight Line Propagation
= Thick Lens
- The Eye
Other Sciences
- Mathematics
- High School
- Instructional Material
= Activity
= Instructor Guide/Manual
= Lesson/Lesson Plan
= Problem/Problem Set
- Assessment Material
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Access Rights:
Available by subscription
This material is released under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 license.
Rights Holder:
American Association of Physics Teachers
Snell's Law, concave lens, convex lens, ray diagram, ray tracing
Record Creator:
Metadata instance created January 11, 2017 by Caroline Hall
Record Updated:
October 28, 2021 by Caroline Hall
Last Update
when Cataloged:
January 8, 2017
Other Collections:

Next Generation Science Standards

Waves and Their Applications in Technologies for Information Transfer (HS-PS4)

Students who demonstrate understanding can: (9-12)
  • Use mathematical representations to support a claim regarding relationships among the frequency, wavelength, and speed of waves traveling in various media. (HS-PS4-1)

Disciplinary Core Ideas (K-12)

Wave Properties (PS4.A)
  • The wavelength and frequency of a wave are related to one another by the speed of travel of the wave, which depends on the type of wave and the medium through which it is passing. (9-12)
Electromagnetic Radiation (PS4.B)
  • When light shines on an object, it is reflected, absorbed, or transmitted through the object, depending on the object's material and the frequency (color) of the light. (6-8)
  • The path that light travels can be traced as straight lines, except at surfaces between different transparent materials (e.g., air and water, air and glass) where the light path bends. (6-8)
  • A wave model of light is useful for explaining brightness, color, and the frequency-dependent bending of light at a surface between media. (6-8)

Crosscutting Concepts (K-12)

Patterns (K-12)
  • Empirical evidence is needed to identify patterns. (9-12)
Structure and Function (K-12)
  • The functions and properties of natural and designed objects and systems can be inferred from their overall structure, the way their components are shaped and used, and the molecular substructures of its various materials. (9-12)

NGSS Science and Engineering Practices (K-12)

Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions (K-12)
  • Constructing explanations and designing solutions in 9–12 builds on K–8 experiences and progresses to explanations and designs that are supported by multiple and independent student-generated sources of evidence consistent with scientific ideas, principles, and theories. (9-12)
    • Apply scientific principles and evidence to provide an explanation of phenomena and solve design problems, taking into account possible unanticipated effects. (9-12)
Developing and Using Models (K-12)
  • Modeling in 9–12 builds on K–8 and progresses to using, synthesizing, and developing models to predict and show relationships among variables between systems and their components in the natural and designed worlds. (9-12)
    • Use a model to predict the relationships between systems or between components of a system. (9-12)
    • Use a model to provide mechanistic accounts of phenomena. (9-12)
Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information (K-12)
  • Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information in 9–12 builds on K–8 and progresses to evaluating the validity and reliability of the claims, methods, and designs. (9-12)
    • Communicate scientific information (e.g., about phenomena and/or the process of development and the design and performance of a proposed process or system) in multiple formats (including orally, graphically, textually, and mathematically). (9-12)
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Record Link
AIP Format
R. Vieyra, , 2016, WWW Document, (
R. Vieyra, Lens Science: Exploring Light with Gelatin Lenses, 2016, <>.
APA Format
Vieyra, R. (2016). Lens Science: Exploring Light with Gelatin Lenses. Retrieved July 18, 2024, from
Chicago Format
Vieyra, Rebecca E.. "Lens Science: Exploring Light with Gelatin Lenses." 2017. (accessed 18 July 2024).
MLA Format
Vieyra, Rebecca E.. Lens Science: Exploring Light with Gelatin Lenses. 2016. 18 July 2024 <>.
BibTeX Export Format
@techreport{ Author = "Rebecca E. Vieyra", Title = {Lens Science: Exploring Light with Gelatin Lenses}, Month = {January}, Year = {2017} }
Refer Export Format

%A Rebecca E. Vieyra %T Lens Science: Exploring Light with Gelatin Lenses %D January 8, 2017 %U %O application/pdf

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%0 Report %A Vieyra, Rebecca E. %D January 8, 2017 %T Lens Science: Exploring Light with Gelatin Lenses %8 January 8, 2017 %U

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