One part of GCSE Science is the study of waves, including both mechanical waves (such as sound) and electromagnetic waves (such as light). This is the first of six quizzes on waves and it looks at reflection.
Waves travel in straight lines unless they are diffracted, refracted or reflected and this quiz deals with the last of those three. Reflection is completely predictable, all you need to know is the law of reflection. This simply states that 'the angle of incidence is equal to the angle of reflection'. But what are these angles and how are they measured?
The angle of incidence is the angle at which a wave hits the reflecting surface. The angle of reflection is the angle at which the wave bounces off the reflecting surface. It doesn't matter what the surface is or how smooth or bumpy it is, the law of reflection is ALWAYS obeyed.
This is where it gets tricky. The angle is not measured from the surface, it is measured from the normal. The normal is an imaginary line at right angles to the reflecting surface where the ray hits. When you have been doing reflection experiments at school you will have probably used ray boxes and plane mirrors. When you have traced out the path the light rays took you will have made this imaginary line real by drawing it so that you could measure the angles.
Smooth surfaces produce good reflections and can act as mirrors when light waves hit them. This can happen with other waves from the electromagnetic spectrum. You can feel the infrared radiation from the sun by reflecting sunlight onto the back of your hand using a small, flat mirror. WARNING: if you do try that, be very, very careful not to reflect the sunlight anywhere near your eyes as it ould easily damage them.
Longitudinal waves can be reflected too. They follow exactly the same rule of reflection as electromagnetic waves. Sound waves are longitudinal and when a sound wave is reflected from a cliff face or the wall of a building, you hear the reflection as an echo.