What is Total Internal Reflection?

Total internal reflection
Total internal reflection is a phenomenon that happens when a propagating wave strikes a medium boundary at an angle larger than a particular critical angle with respect to the normal to the surface. If the refractive index is lower on the other side of the boundary and the incident angle is greater than the critical angle, the wave cannot pass through and is entirely reflected. The critical angle is the angle of incidence above which the total internal reflection occurs. This is particularly common as an optical phenomenon, where light waves are involved, but it occurs with many types of waves, such as electromagnetic waves in general or sound waves.

When a wave crosses a boundary between different materials with different kinds of refractive indices, the wave will be partially refracted at the boundary surface, and partially reflected. However, if the angle of incidence is greater (i.e. the direction of propagation or ray is closer to being parallel to the boundary) than the critical angle – the angle of incidence at which light is refracted such that it travels along the boundary – then the wave will not cross the boundary and instead be totally reflected back internally. This can only occur when the wave in a medium with a higher refractive index (n1) hits its surface that's in contact with a medium of lower refractive index (n2). For example, it will occur with light hitting air from glass, but not when hitting glass from air.

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