Transparent Materials - Absorption of Light in Solids - Transparency in Insulators

Transparency in Insulators

An object may be not transparent either because it reflects the incoming light or because it absorbs the incoming light. Almost all solids reflect a part and absorb a part of the incoming light.

When light falls onto a block of metal, it encounters atoms that are tightly packed in a regular lattice and a "sea of electrons" moving randomly between the atoms. In metals, most of these are non-bonding electrons (or free electrons) as opposed to the bonding electrons typically found in covalently bonded or ionically bonded non-metallic (insulating) solids. In a metallic bond, any potential bonding electrons can easily be lost by the atoms in a crystalline structure. The effect of this delocalization is simply to exaggerate the effect of the "sea of electrons". As a result of these electrons, most of the incoming light in metals is reflected back, which is why we see a shiny metal surface.

Most insulators (or dielectric materials) are held together by ionic bonds. Thus, these materials do not have free conduction electrons, and the bonding electrons reflect only a small fraction of the incident wave. The remaining frequencies (or wavelengths) are free to propagate (or be transmitted). This class of materials includes all ceramics and glasses.

If a dielectric material does not include light-absorbent additive molecules (pigments, dyes, colorants), it is usually transparent to the spectrum of visible light. Color centers (or dye molecules, or "dopants") in a dielectric absorb a portion of the incoming light wave. The remaining frequencies (or wavelengths) are free to be reflected or transmitted. This is how colored glass is produced.

Most liquids and aqueous solutions are highly transparent. For example, water, cooking oil, rubbing alcohol, air, natural gas, are all clear. Absence of structural defects (voids, cracks, etc.) and molecular structure of most liquids are chiefly responsible for their excellent optical transmission. The ability of liquids to "heal" internal defects via viscous flow is one of the reasons why some fibrous materials (e.g., paper or fabric) increase their apparent transparency when wetted. The liquid fills up numerous voids making the material more structurally homogeneous.

Light scattering in an ideal defect-free crystalline (non-metallic) solid which provides no scattering centers for incoming lightwaves will be due primarily to any effects of anharmonicity within the ordered lattice. Lightwave transmission will be highly directional due to the typical anisotropy of crystalline substances, which includes their symmetry group and Bravais lattice. For example, the seven different crystalline forms of quartz silica (silicon dioxide, SiO2) are all clear, transparent materials.

Read more about this topic:  Transparent Materials, Absorption of Light in Solids

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