The Physics
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Index of Refraction of Glycerol

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Nave, Carl R. Index of Refraction. Hyperphysics. Department of Physics and Astronomy of the Georgia State University. August 2000. "Glycerine 1.473" 1.473
Martini, N. and J. Bewersdorf and S.W. Hell. A new high-aperture glycerol immersion objective lens and its application to 3D-fluorescence microscopy. Journal of Microscopy. May 2002, Vol. 206: 146, 6p. "The reason is the the index of refraction of the oil and the cover slip of ~1.51 is close to that of ~1.45 of the glycerol mountant, so that refractive index mismatch-induced spherical aberrations are tolerable to some extent." 1.45
Weast, Robert C., CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics. Ed. 62 Edition, CRC Press, Boca Raton, Fl., 1981, p. E155. "1,3-propaniol 1.474" 1.474
Product Detail: Vegetable Glycerin, Splaychem, 2003.
Analytical ParametersSpecifications
Refractive Index1.4731

Glycerol is a clear, colorless, and sweet-tasting, viscous liquid also frequently referred to as glycerin or glycerine. It is also less commonly known as 1,2,3-propanetriol, 1,2,3-trihydroxypropane, or glycol alcohol. Glycerol belongs to the alcohol family in organic compounds and contains three hydroxyl groups (-OH). The chemical formula of glycerol is C3H8O3 and the molecular formula is HOCH2CHOHCH2OH. Glycerol is a common substance found in soap, cosmetics, creams, and foods as well as being used in chemical studies and experiments.

Refraction is the change in angle of light when moving from one medium into another. The index of refraction, n, can be determined by c/v where c is the approximate speed of light, 3 × 108 m/s, and v is the phase velocity, or the speed inside the medium. However, the refractive index is also defined as a constant that is the ratio of the sine of the angle of incidence to the sine of the angle of refraction. This application is used in Snell's Law, given as: n1 sinθ1 = n2 sinθ2.

Refraction Diagram

How exactly can the refractive index of glycerol be applied to our daily lives though? One known common application of the refractive index of a solution of sugar can be used to determine the sugar content. Another usage lies in the fact that because glycerol has the highest refractive index in the group of water-soluble materials, it is often used in refractive index matching fluids — a procedure which has resulted in improved imaging capabilities of biomedical materials, such as 3D-fluorescence microscopy.

Shirley Deng -- 2005