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Does anyone know why glass is transparent?

  1. Jun 19, 2003 #1
    Does anyone know why glass is transparent?
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 5, 2013
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 19, 2003 #2
    Re: Glass

    It is rather simple to explain why crystalline SiO2 is transparent... it's because of the atomic spacing. The periodic potential well generated by the crystalline structure gives rise to electronic band-gaps. Essentially band-gaps represent energies in which the electrons in the valence electrons will not be excited to a higher state. In crystalline metals and most semiconductors, light in the visible range will excite these electrons so this energy will be dissipated before it passes through the material. In some common crystalline insulators, the atoms have a larger atomic spacing which gives rise to a larger band gap. The band gap of such materials requires a larger energy than provided by visible light in order for electron excitation to take place. Therefore, the light passes through the material without interaction.

    Recall that glass is simply amorphous SiO2. In a mathematical sense, it is somewhat more difficult to explain why glass is transparent, but the polymer chains essentially exhibit a similar order to the crystalline SiO2... but for a shorter range. On a large scale, amorphous SiO2 has similar opticl properties to its crystalline form.

  4. Jun 21, 2003 #3
    thanks a lot for the explanation!!!!
  5. Apr 21, 2004 #4
    "why sth is transparent" is ALWAYS a question for me......

    In secondary school, teacher tell me the "band gap" explanation, it sound good,

    but more I study, more problems I found....

    firstly, is there really no interaction between light and transparent materials ?
    if so, how refraction occur??

    in addition, transparent materials would "rotate" polarized light, e.g. well-crystallized quartz


    something called cirrcular dichroism would occur in "transparent solution" if solution contain some chrial compound......

    so what really happen light passing through "transparent materials" ??

    and more importantly, what is "transparent"? :eek:
    is there a more presice defination :confused: :confused: ??

    thx for attention.... :biggrin:
  6. Apr 21, 2004 #5


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    From quantum mechanics, we learned that an electron can only absorb light if that absorption allows it to move to another energy level. In solid state, we learn that crystal lattices give rise to whole bands of allowable energies for transitions. These energy bands dictate the absorption spectra of the material.

    But, as noted, something is happening to the light that is not absorbed. It is slowed. That is our working definition for index of refraction - how fast does light travel through the material. Since we are also taught that light has only one speed, c, something funny must be going on.

    It is. Light of an energy that can not nominally be absorbed does get absorbed. This absorption gives the local matter no allowable state to change to, so it re-emits the light. The delay between absorption and re-emission causes the apparent speed to change. The likelihood of these aborted absorptions per unit length travelled is one factor that affects index of refraction.

  7. Apr 21, 2004 #6
    do you means "absorption occur when light passing through transparent materials" ?

    how is "this absorption" different from the absorption caused by electron excitation ? or the same ?

    If the speed of light in a media is related to the absorb and re-emits, does "absorptivity" (in solution) of the materials related to the refractive index ? :smile:
  8. Oct 14, 2004 #7
    The band gap answer is correct of course, but this is not all. The other point is that glass is an amorphous solid.

    In crystals there are almost always imperfections that will scatter light: grain boundaries, inclusions, cracks, etcetera. It is much easier to make a large volume of glass that is uniform on the scale of the wavelength of visible light.

    Compare ice with water.
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