Dispersion and refractive indices

  1. If different frequencies of light have different refractive indices for the same material and travel at different speed in the same material, isn't it inaccurate to say that the speed of light through a certain material is c/n, where n is the "standard" refractive index?
  2. jcsd
  3. clem

    clem 1,276
    Science Advisor

    Yes, but it is usually a reasonable approximation.
    The dependence of n on frequency is why the 'group velocity' differs from the 'wave velocity'.
    A short wave packet would tend to spread because of this depedence of n on frequency.
    1 person likes this.
  4. DrDu

    DrDu 4,638
    Science Advisor

    Well, if there is dispersion, you would rather say that ##c(\omega)=c_0/n(\omega)##. Often, people take it for granted that c and n are functions of ##\omega## and don't mention it explicitly.
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  5. sophiecentaur

    sophiecentaur 14,711
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    "n" is specified at a certain wavelength. Visible light covers an octave of frequencies so it is hardly surprising that it interacts with transparent substances differently over that range.
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