Transparency and translucency

In the field of optics, transparency (also called pellucidity or diaphaneity) is the physical property of allowing light to pass through the material without being scattered. On a macroscopic scale (one where the dimensions investigated are much larger than the wavelength of the photons in question), the photons can be said to follow Snell's Law. Translucency (also called translucence or translucidity) is a superset of transparency: it allows light to pass through, but does not necessarily (again, on the macroscopic scale) follow Snell's law; the photons can be scattered at either of the two interfaces, or internally, where there is a change in index of refraction. In other words, a translucent medium allows the transport of light while a transparent medium not only allows the transport of light but allows for image formation. Transparent materials appear clear, with the overall appearance of one color, or any combination leading up to a brilliant spectrum of every color. The opposite property of translucency is opacity.

When light encounters a material, it can interact with it in several different ways. These interactions depend on the wavelength of the light and the nature of the material. Photons interact with an object by some combination of reflection, absorption and transmission. Some materials, such as plate glass and clean water, transmit much of the light that falls on them and reflect little of it; such materials are called optically transparent. Many liquids and aqueous solutions are highly transparent. Absence of structural defects (voids, cracks, etc.) and molecular structure of most liquids are mostly responsible for excellent optical transmission.

Materials which do not transmit light are called opaque. Many such substances have a chemical composition which includes what are referred to as absorption centers. Many substances are selective in their absorption of white light frequencies. They absorb certain portions of the visible spectrum while reflecting others. The frequencies of the spectrum which are not absorbed are either reflected or transmitted for our physical observation. This is what gives rise to color. The attenuation of light of all frequencies and wavelengths is due to the combined mechanisms of absorption and scattering.[1]

Transparency can provide almost perfect camouflage for animals able to achieve it. This is easier in dimly-lit or turbid seawater than in good illumination. Many marine animals such as jellyfish are highly transparent.

Opacity Translucency Transparency
Comparisons of 1. opacity, 2. translucency, and 3. transparency; behind each panel is a star
Dichroic filters
Dichroic filters are created using optically transparent materials.


With regard to the absorption of light, primary material considerations include:

  • At the electronic level, absorption in the ultraviolet and visible (UV-Vis) portions of the spectrum depends on whether the electron orbitals are spaced (or "quantized") such that they can absorb a quantum of light (or photon) of a specific frequency, and does not violate selection rules. For example, in most glasses, electrons have no available energy levels above them in range of that associated with visible light, or if they do, they violate selection rules, meaning there is no appreciable absorption in pure (undoped) glasses, making them ideal transparent materials for windows in buildings.
  • At the atomic or molecular level, physical absorption in the infrared portion of the spectrum depends on the frequencies of atomic or molecular vibrations or chemical bonds, and on selection rules. Nitrogen and oxygen are not greenhouse gases because there is no absorption, but because there is no molecular dipole moment.

With regard to the scattering of light, the most critical factor is the length scale of any or all of these structural features relative to the wavelength of the light being scattered. Primary material considerations include:

  • Crystalline structure: whether or not the atoms or molecules exhibit the 'long-range order' evidenced in crystalline solids.
  • Glassy structure: scattering centers include fluctuations in density or composition.
  • Microstructure: scattering centers include internal surfaces such as grain boundaries, crystallographic defects and microscopic pores.
  • Organic materials: scattering centers include fiber and cell structures and boundaries.

Light scattering in solids

Diffuse refl
General mechanism of diffuse reflection

Diffuse reflection - Generally, when light strikes the surface of a (non-metallic and non-glassy) solid material, it bounces off in all directions due to multiple reflections by the microscopic irregularities inside the material (e.g., the grain boundaries of a polycrystalline material, or the cell or fiber boundaries of an organic material), and by its surface, if it is rough. Diffuse reflection is typically characterized by omni-directional reflection angles. Most of the objects visible to the naked eye are identified via diffuse reflection. Another term commonly used for this type of reflection is "light scattering". Light scattering from the surfaces of objects is our primary mechanism of physical observation.[2][3]

Light scattering in liquids and solids depends on the wavelength of the light being scattered. Limits to spatial scales of visibility (using white light) therefore arise, depending on the frequency of the light wave and the physical dimension (or spatial scale) of the scattering center. Visible light has a wavelength scale on the order of a half a micrometer (one millionth of a meter). Scattering centers (or particles) as small as one micrometer have been observed directly in the light microscope (e.g., Brownian motion).[4][5]

Transparent ceramics

Optical transparency in polycrystalline materials is limited by the amount of light which is scattered by their microstructural features. Light scattering depends on the wavelength of the light. Limits to spatial scales of visibility (using white light) therefore arise, depending on the frequency of the light wave and the physical dimension of the scattering center. For example, since visible light has a wavelength scale on the order of a micrometer, scattering centers will have dimensions on a similar spatial scale. Primary scattering centers in polycrystalline materials include microstructural defects such as pores and grain boundaries. In addition to pores, most of the interfaces in a typical metal or ceramic object are in the form of grain boundaries which separate tiny regions of crystalline order. When the size of the scattering center (or grain boundary) is reduced below the size of the wavelength of the light being scattered, the scattering no longer occurs to any significant extent.

In the formation of polycrystalline materials (metals and ceramics) the size of the crystalline grains is determined largely by the size of the crystalline particles present in the raw material during formation (or pressing) of the object. Moreover, the size of the grain boundaries scales directly with particle size. Thus a reduction of the original particle size well below the wavelength of visible light (about 1/15 of the light wavelength or roughly 600/15 = 40 nanometers) eliminates much of light scattering, resulting in a translucent or even transparent material.

Computer modeling of light transmission through translucent ceramic alumina has shown that microscopic pores trapped near grain boundaries act as primary scattering centers. The volume fraction of porosity had to be reduced below 1% for high-quality optical transmission (99.99 percent of theoretical density). This goal has been readily accomplished and amply demonstrated in laboratories and research facilities worldwide using the emerging chemical processing methods encompassed by the methods of sol-gel chemistry and nanotechnology.[6]

Backlit mushroom
Translucency of a material being used to highlight the structure of a photographic subject

Transparent ceramics have created interest in their applications for high energy lasers, transparent armor windows, nose cones for heat seeking missiles, radiation detectors for non-destructive testing, high energy physics, space exploration, security and medical imaging applications. Large laser elements made from transparent ceramics can be produced at a relatively low cost. These components are free of internal stress or intrinsic birefringence, and allow relatively large doping levels or optimized custom-designed doping profiles. This makes ceramic laser elements particularly important for high-energy lasers.

The development of transparent panel products will have other potential advanced applications including high strength, impact-resistant materials that can be used for domestic windows and skylights. Perhaps more important is that walls and other applications will have improved overall strength, especially for high-shear conditions found in high seismic and wind exposures. If the expected improvements in mechanical properties bear out, the traditional limits seen on glazing areas in today's building codes could quickly become outdated if the window area actually contributes to the shear resistance of the wall.

Currently available infrared transparent materials typically exhibit a trade-off between optical performance, mechanical strength and price. For example, sapphire (crystalline alumina) is very strong, but it is expensive and lacks full transparency throughout the 3–5 micrometer mid-infrared range. Yttria is fully transparent from 3–5 micrometers, but lacks sufficient strength, hardness, and thermal shock resistance for high-performance aerospace applications. Not surprisingly, a combination of these two materials in the form of the yttrium aluminium garnet (YAG) is one of the top performers in the field.

Absorption of light in solids

When light strikes an object, it usually has not just a single frequency (or wavelength) but many. Objects have a tendency to selectively absorb, reflect or transmit light of certain frequencies. That is, one object might reflect green light while absorbing all other frequencies of visible light. Another object might selectively transmit blue light while absorbing all other frequencies of visible light. The manner in which visible light interacts with an object is dependent upon the frequency of the light, the nature of the atoms in the object, and often the nature of the electrons in the atoms of the object.

Some materials allow much of the light that falls on them to be transmitted through the material without being reflected. Materials that allow the transmission of light waves through them are called optically transparent. Chemically pure (undoped) window glass and clean river or spring water are prime examples of this.

Materials which do not allow the transmission of any light wave frequencies are called opaque. Such substances may have a chemical composition which includes what are referred to as absorption centers. Most materials are composed of materials which are selective in their absorption of light frequencies. Thus they absorb only certain portions of the visible spectrum. The frequencies of the spectrum which are not absorbed are either reflected back or transmitted for our physical observation. In the visible portion of the spectrum, this is what gives rise to color.[7][8]

Absorption centers are largely responsible for the appearance of specific wavelengths of visible light all around us. Moving from longer (0.7 micrometer) to shorter (0.4 micrometer) wavelengths: red, orange, yellow, green and blue (ROYGB) can all be identified by our senses in the appearance of color by the selective absorption of specific light wave frequencies (or wavelengths). Mechanisms of selective light wave absorption include:

  • Electronic: Transitions in electron energy levels within the atom (e.g., pigments). These transitions are typically in the ultraviolet (UV) and/or visible portions of the spectrum.
  • Vibrational: Resonance in atomic/molecular vibrational modes. These transitions are typically in the infrared portion of the spectrum.

UV-Vis: Electronic transitions

In electronic absorption, the frequency of the incoming light wave is at or near the energy levels of the electrons within the atoms which compose the substance. In this case, the electrons will absorb the energy of the light wave and increase their energy state, often moving outward from the nucleus of the atom into an outer shell or orbital.

The atoms that bind together to make the molecules of any particular substance contain a number of electrons (given by the atomic number Z in the periodic chart). Recall that all light waves are electromagnetic in origin. Thus they are affected strongly when coming into contact with negatively charged electrons in matter. When photons (individual packets of light energy) come in contact with the valence electrons of atom, one of several things can and will occur:

  • A molecule absorbs the photon, some of the energy may be lost via luminescence, fluorescence and phosphorescence.
  • A molecule absorbs the photon which results in reflection or scattering.
  • A molecule cannot absorb the energy of the photon and the photon continues on its path. This results in transmission (provided no other absorption mechanisms are active).

Most of the time, it is a combination of the above that happens to the light that hits an object. The states in different materials vary in the range of energy that they can absorb. Most glasses, for example, block ultraviolet (UV) light. What happens is the electrons in the glass absorb the energy of the photons in the UV range while ignoring the weaker energy of photons in the visible light spectrum. But there are also existing special glass types, like special types of borosilicate glass or quartz that are UV-permeable and thus allow a high transmission of ultra violet light.

Thus, when a material is illuminated, individual photons of light can make the valence electrons of an atom transition to a higher electronic energy level. The photon is destroyed in the process and the absorbed radiant energy is transformed to electric potential energy. Several things can happen then to the absorbed energy: it may be re-emitted by the electron as radiant energy (in this case the overall effect is in fact a scattering of light), dissipated to the rest of the material (i.e. transformed into heat), or the electron can be freed from the atom (as in the photoelectric and Compton effects).

Infrared: Bond stretching

1D normal modes (280 kB)
Normal modes of vibration in a crystalline solid

The primary physical mechanism for storing mechanical energy of motion in condensed matter is through heat, or thermal energy. Thermal energy manifests itself as energy of motion. Thus, heat is motion at the atomic and molecular levels. The primary mode of motion in crystalline substances is vibration. Any given atom will vibrate around some mean or average position within a crystalline structure, surrounded by its nearest neighbors. This vibration in two dimensions is equivalent to the oscillation of a clock’s pendulum. It swings back and forth symmetrically about some mean or average (vertical) position. Atomic and molecular vibrational frequencies may average on the order of 1012 cycles per second (Terahertz radiation).

When a light wave of a given frequency strikes a material with particles having the same or (resonant) vibrational frequencies, then those particles will absorb the energy of the light wave and transform it into thermal energy of vibrational motion. Since different atoms and molecules have different natural frequencies of vibration, they will selectively absorb different frequencies (or portions of the spectrum) of infrared light. Reflection and transmission of light waves occur because the frequencies of the light waves do not match the natural resonant frequencies of vibration of the objects. When infrared light of these frequencies strikes an object, the energy is reflected or transmitted.

If the object is transparent, then the light waves are passed on to neighboring atoms through the bulk of the material and re-emitted on the opposite side of the object. Such frequencies of light waves are said to be transmitted.[9][10]

Transparency in insulators

An object may be not transparent either because it reflects the incoming light or because it absorbs the incoming light. Almost all solids reflect a part and absorb a part of the incoming light.

When light falls onto a block of metal, it encounters atoms that are tightly packed in a regular lattice and a "sea of electrons" moving randomly between the atoms.[11] In metals, most of these are non-bonding electrons (or free electrons) as opposed to the bonding electrons typically found in covalently bonded or ionically bonded non-metallic (insulating) solids. In a metallic bond, any potential bonding electrons can easily be lost by the atoms in a crystalline structure. The effect of this delocalization is simply to exaggerate the effect of the "sea of electrons". As a result of these electrons, most of the incoming light in metals is reflected back, which is why we see a shiny metal surface.

Most insulators (or dielectric materials) are held together by ionic bonds. Thus, these materials do not have free conduction electrons, and the bonding electrons reflect only a small fraction of the incident wave. The remaining frequencies (or wavelengths) are free to propagate (or be transmitted). This class of materials includes all ceramics and glasses.

If a dielectric material does not include light-absorbent additive molecules (pigments, dyes, colorants), it is usually transparent to the spectrum of visible light. Color centers (or dye molecules, or "dopants") in a dielectric absorb a portion of the incoming light. The remaining frequencies (or wavelengths) are free to be reflected or transmitted. This is how colored glass is produced.

Most liquids and aqueous solutions are highly transparent. For example, water, cooking oil, rubbing alcohol, air, and natural gas are all clear. Absence of structural defects (voids, cracks, etc.) and molecular structure of most liquids are chiefly responsible for their excellent optical transmission. The ability of liquids to "heal" internal defects via viscous flow is one of the reasons why some fibrous materials (e.g., paper or fabric) increase their apparent transparency when wetted. The liquid fills up numerous voids making the material more structurally homogeneous.

Light scattering in an ideal defect-free crystalline (non-metallic) solid which provides no scattering centers for incoming light will be due primarily to any effects of anharmonicity within the ordered lattice. Light transmission will be highly directional due to the typical anisotropy of crystalline substances, which includes their symmetry group and Bravais lattice. For example, the seven different crystalline forms of quartz silica (silicon dioxide, SiO2) are all clear, transparent materials.[12]

Optical waveguides

Propagation of light through a multi-mode optical fiber
Laser in fibre
A laser beam bouncing down an acrylic rod, illustrating the total internal reflection of light in a multimode optical fiber

Optically transparent materials focus on the response of a material to incoming light waves of a range of wavelengths. Guided light wave transmission via frequency selective waveguides involves the emerging field of fiber optics and the ability of certain glassy compositions to act as a transmission medium for a range of frequencies simultaneously (multi-mode optical fiber) with little or no interference between competing wavelengths or frequencies. This resonant mode of energy and data transmission via electromagnetic (light) wave propagation is relatively lossless.

An optical fiber is a cylindrical dielectric waveguide that transmits light along its axis by the process of total internal reflection. The fiber consists of a core surrounded by a cladding layer. To confine the optical signal in the core, the refractive index of the core must be greater than that of the cladding. The refractive index is the parameter reflecting the speed of light in a material. (Refractive index is the ratio of the speed of light in vacuum to the speed of light in a given medium. The refractive index of vacuum is therefore 1.) The larger the refractive index, the more slowly light travels in that medium. Typical values for core and cladding of an optical fiber are 1.48 and 1.46, respectively.

When light traveling in a dense medium hits a boundary at a steep angle, the light will be completely reflected. This effect, called total internal reflection, is used in optical fibers to confine light in the core. Light travels along the fiber bouncing back and forth off of the boundary. Because the light must strike the boundary with an angle greater than the critical angle, only light that enters the fiber within a certain range of angles will be propagated. This range of angles is called the acceptance cone of the fiber. The size of this acceptance cone is a function of the refractive index difference between the fiber's core and cladding. Optical waveguides are used as components in integrated optical circuits (e.g. combined with lasers or light-emitting diodes, LEDs) or as the transmission medium in local and long haul optical communication systems.

Mechanisms of attenuation

Zblan transmit
Light attenuation by ZBLAN and silica fibers

Attenuation in fiber optics, also known as transmission loss, is the reduction in intensity of the light beam (or signal) with respect to distance traveled through a transmission medium. Attenuation coefficients in fiber optics usually use units of dB/km through the medium due to the very high quality of transparency of modern optical transmission media. The medium is usually a fiber of silica glass that confines the incident light beam to the inside. Attenuation is an important factor limiting the transmission of a signal across large distances. In optical fibers the main attenuation source is scattering from molecular level irregularities (Rayleigh scattering)[13] due to structural disorder and compositional fluctuations of the glass structure. This same phenomenon is seen as one of the limiting factors in the transparency of infrared missile domes. Further attenuation is caused by light absorbed by residual materials, such as metals or water ions, within the fiber core and inner cladding. Light leakage due to bending, splices, connectors, or other outside forces are other factors resulting in attenuation.[14][15]

As camouflage

Expl0469 - Flickr - NOAA Photo Library
Many animals of the open sea, like this Aurelia labiata jellyfish, are largely transparent.

Many marine animals that float near the surface are highly transparent, giving them almost perfect camouflage.[16] However, transparency is difficult for bodies made of materials that have different refractive indices from seawater. Some marine animals such as jellyfish have gelatinous bodies, composed mainly of water; their thick mesogloea is acellular and highly transparent. This conveniently makes them buoyant, but it also makes them large for their muscle mass, so they cannot swim fast, making this form of camouflage a costly trade-off with mobility.[16] Gelatinous planktonic animals are between 50 and 90 percent transparent. A transparency of 50 percent is enough to make an animal invisible to a predator such as cod at a depth of 650 metres (2,130 ft); better transparency is required for invisibility in shallower water, where the light is brighter and predators can see better. For example, a cod can see prey that are 98 percent transparent in optimal lighting in shallow water. Therefore, sufficient transparency for camouflage is more easily achieved in deeper waters.[16] For the same reason, transparency in air is even harder to achieve, but a partial example is found in the glass frogs of the South American rain forest, which have translucent skin and pale greenish limbs.[17] Several Central American species of clearwing (ithomiine) butterflies and many dragonflies and allied insects also have wings which are mostly transparent, a form of crypsis that provides some protection from predators.

See also


  1. ^ Fox, M. (2002). Optical Properties of Solids. Oxford University Press.
  2. ^ Kerker, M. (1969). The Scattering of Light. Academic, New York.
  3. ^ Mandelstam, L.I. (1926). "Light Scattering by Inhomogeneous Media". Zh. Russ. Fiz-Khim. Ova. 58: 381.
  4. ^ van de Hulst, H.C. (1981). Light scattering by small particles. New York: Dover. ISBN 0-486-64228-3.
  5. ^ Bohren, C.F. & Huffmann, D.R. (1983). Absorption and scattering of light by small particles. New York: Wiley.
  6. ^ Yamashita, I.; et al. (2008). "Transparent Ceramics". J. Am. Ceram. Soc. 91 (3): 813. doi:10.1111/j.1551-2916.2007.02202.x.
  7. ^ Simmons, J. & Potter, K.S. (2000). Optical Materials. Academic Press.
  8. ^ Uhlmann, D.R.; et al. (1991). Optical Properties of Glass. Amer. Ceram. Soc.
  9. ^ Gunzler, H. & Gremlich, H. (2002). IR Spectroscopy: An Introduction. Wiley.
  10. ^ Stuart, B. (2004). Infrared Spectroscopy: Fundamentals and Applications. Wiley.
  11. ^ Mott, N.F. & Jones, H. Theory of the Properties of Metals and Alloys. Clarendon Press, Oxford (1936) Dover Publications (1958).
  12. ^ Griffin, A. (1968). "Brillouin Light Scattering from Crystals in the Hydrodynamic Region". Rev. Mod. Phys. 40 (1): 167. Bibcode:1968RvMP...40..167G. doi:10.1103/RevModPhys.40.167.
  13. ^ I. P. Kaminow, T. Li (2002), Optical fiber telecommunications IV, Vol.1, p. 223 Archived 2013-05-27 at the Wayback Machine.
  14. ^ Smith, R.G. (1972). "Optical power handling capacity of low loss optical fibers as determined by stimulated Raman and Brillouin scattering". Appl. Opt. 11 (11): 2489–94. Bibcode:1972ApOpt..11.2489S. doi:10.1364/AO.11.002489. PMID 20119362.
  15. ^ Archibald, P.S. & Bennett, H.E. (1978). "Scattering from infrared missile domes". Opt. Eng. 17: 647. Bibcode:1978SPIE..133...71A. doi:10.1117/12.956078.
  16. ^ a b c Herring, Peter (2002). The Biology of the Deep Ocean. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-854956-7. pp. 190–191.
  17. ^ Naish, D. "Green-boned glass frogs, monkey frogs, toothless toads". Tetrapod zoology. Archived from the original on 11 November 2012. Retrieved 14 February 2013.

Further reading

  • Electrodynamics of continuous media, Landau, L. D., Lifshits. E.M. and Pitaevskii, L.P., (Pergamon Press, Oxford, 1984)
  • Laser Light Scattering: Basic Principles and Practice Chu, B., 2nd Edn. (Academic Press, New York 1992)
  • Solid State Laser Engineering, W. Koechner (Springer-Verlag, New York, 1999)
  • Introduction to Chemical Physics, J.C. Slater (McGraw-Hill, New York, 1939)
  • Modern Theory of Solids, F. Seitz, (McGraw-Hill, New York, 1940)
  • Modern Aspects of the Vitreous State, J.D.MacKenzie, Ed. (Butterworths, London, 1960)

External links


A blobject is a design product, often a household object, distinguished by smooth flowing curves, bright colors, and an absence of sharp edges. The word is generally held to be a portmanteau, a contraction of "blob" and "object."

The origin of the term is disputed, but it is often attributed to either the designer-author Steven Skov Holt or the designer Karim Rashid. Author and design journalist Phil Patton attributed the word to Holt in 1993 in Esquire magazine. Holt has defined a blobject as, most often, a colorful, mass-produced, plastic-based, emotionally engaging consumer product with a curvilinear, flowing shape. This fluid and curvaceous form is the blobject's most distinctive feature. Rashid, the contemporary designer who wrote the book I want to Change the World, was an early leader in creating blobjects and has become one of the most celebrated designers of his generation.

Blobjects can also be found in most areas of contemporary visual culture.

A blobject can be a typographic font (cf. Neville Brody), an animation (cf. Monica Peon), a piece of furniture (Marc Newson), an article of clothing (Rei Kawakubo), a motorcycle (GK Dynamics), a car (GEMCAR), a building (Future Systems), a painting (Rex Ray), a piece of sculpture (Hadeki Matsumoto), or ceramics work (Ken Price).

Blobjects can be made of any material in any size or scale for the home, office, car, or outdoors.Common materials used in fabricating blobjects are plastic (especially polycarbonate, polypropylene, or polyethylene), metal, and rubber, with the aim being to give a more organic and animate feel.

The blobject trend has largely been driven by advances in computer-aided design, information visualization, rapid prototyping, materials, and injection molding. These technologies have given designers the chance to use new shapes and to explore transparency and translucency without significant extra production costs.

More recently, in 2004, author Bruce Sterling used the word in the title of his keynote speech at Siggraph. In his speech titled, "When Blobjects Rule the Earth", Sterling speculated on the future of graphic simulation when practical differences no longer exist between computer generated models and physically manufactured objects.


Colourless or colorless may refer to:

Transparency and translucency, transmitting all or most colours

Neutral density filter

Monochrome, images in a single colour

Black-and-white, images in gray scale

Boring objects may be referred to as colourless

Index of physics articles (T)

The index of physics articles is split into multiple pages due to its size.

To navigate by individual letter use the table of contents below.

List of infrared articles

This is a list of infrared topics.

List of laser articles

This is a list of laser topics.

Materials science

The interdisciplinary field of materials science, also commonly termed materials science and engineering is the design and discovery of new materials, particularly solids. The intellectual origins of materials science stem from the Enlightenment, when researchers began to use analytical thinking from chemistry, physics, and engineering to understand ancient, phenomenological observations in metallurgy and mineralogy. Materials science still incorporates elements of physics, chemistry, and engineering. As such, the field was long considered by academic institutions as a sub-field of these related fields. Beginning in the 1940s, materials science began to be more widely recognized as a specific and distinct field of science and engineering, and major technical universities around the world created dedicated schools of the study, within either the Science or Engineering schools, hence the naming.

Materials science is a syncretic discipline hybridizing metallurgy, ceramics, solid-state physics, and chemistry. It is the first example of a new academic discipline emerging by fusion rather than fission.Many of the most pressing scientific problems humans currently face are due to the limits of the materials that are available and how they are used. Thus, breakthroughs in materials science are likely to affect the future of technology significantly.Materials scientists emphasize understanding how the history of a material (its processing) influences its structure, and thus the material's properties and performance. The understanding of processing-structure-properties relationships is called the § materials paradigm. This paradigm is used to advance understanding in a variety of research areas, including nanotechnology, biomaterials, and metallurgy. Materials science is also an important part of forensic engineering and failure analysis – investigating materials, products, structures or components which fail or do not function as intended, causing personal injury or damage to property. Such investigations are key to understanding, for example, the causes of various aviation accidents and incidents.

Opacity (optics)

Opacity is the measure of impenetrability to electromagnetic or other kinds of radiation, especially visible light. In radiative transfer, it describes the absorption and scattering of radiation in a medium, such as a plasma, dielectric, shielding material, glass, etc. An opaque object is neither transparent (allowing all light to pass through) nor translucent (allowing some light to pass through). When light strikes an interface between two substances, in general some may be reflected, some absorbed, some scattered, and the rest transmitted (also see refraction). Reflection can be diffuse, for example light reflecting off a white wall, or specular, for example light reflecting off a mirror. An opaque substance transmits no light, and therefore reflects, scatters, or absorbs all of it. Both mirrors and carbon black are opaque. Opacity depends on the frequency of the light being considered. For instance, some kinds of glass, while transparent in the visual range, are largely opaque to ultraviolet light. More extreme frequency-dependence is visible in the absorption lines of cold gases. Opacity can be quantified in many ways; for example, see the article mathematical descriptions of opacity.

Different processes can lead to opacity including absorption, reflection, and scattering.

Optical depth

In physics, optical depth or optical thickness, is the natural logarithm of the ratio of incident to transmitted radiant power through a material, and spectral optical depth or spectral optical thickness is the natural logarithm of the ratio of incident to transmitted spectral radiant power through a material. Optical depth is dimensionless, and in particular is not a length, though it is a monotonically increasing function of path length, and approaches zero as the path length approaches zero. The use of the term "optical density" for optical depth is discouraged.In chemistry, a closely related quantity called "absorbance" or "decadic absorbance" is used instead of optical depth: the common logarithm of the ratio of incident to transmitted radiant power through a material, that is the optical depth divided by ln 10.


Radiodensity (or radiopacity) is opacity to the radio wave and X-ray portion of the electromagnetic spectrum: that is, the relative inability of those kinds of electromagnetic radiation to pass through a particular material. Radiolucency or hypodensity indicates greater passage (greater transradiancy) to X-ray photons and is the analogue of transparency and translucency with visible light. Materials that inhibit the passage of electromagnetic radiation are called radiodense or radiopaque, while those that allow radiation to pass more freely are referred to as radiolucent. Radiopaque volumes of material have white appearance on radiographs, compared with the relatively darker appearance of radiolucent volumes. For example, on typical radiographs, bones look white or light gray (radiopaque), whereas muscle and skin look black or dark gray, being mostly invisible (radiolucent).

Though the term radiodensity is more commonly used in the context of qualitative comparison, radiodensity can also be quantified according to the Hounsfield scale, a principle which is central to X-ray computed tomography (CT scan) applications. On the Hounsfield scale, distilled water has a value of 0 Hounsfield units (HU), while air is specified as -1000 HU.

In modern medicine, radiodense substances are those that will not allow X-rays or similar radiation to pass. Radiographic imaging has been revolutionized by radiodense contrast media, which can be passed through the bloodstream, the gastrointestinal tract, or into the cerebral spinal fluid and utilized to highlight CT scan or X-ray images. Radiopacity is one of the key considerations in the design of various devices such as guidewires or stents that are used during radiological intervention. The radiopacity of a given endovascular device is important since it allows the device to be tracked during the interventional procedure.

The two main factors contributing to a material's radiopacity are density and atomic number. Two common radiodense elements used in medical imagery are barium and iodine.

Medical devices often contain a radiopacifier to enhance visualization during implantation for temporary implantation devices, such as catheters or guidewires, or for monitoring the position of permanently implanted medical devices, such as stents, hip and knee implants, and screws. Metal implants usually have sufficient radiocontrast that additional radiopacifier is not necessary. Polymer-based devices, however, usually incorporate materials with high electron density contrast compared to the surrounding tissue. Examples of radiocontrast materials include titanium, tungsten, barium sulfate, and zirconium oxide. When testing a new medical device for regulatory submission, device manufacturers will usually evaluate the radiocontrast according to ASTM F640 "Standard Test Methods for Determining Radiopacity for Medical Use."


Turbidity is the cloudiness or haziness of a fluid caused by large numbers of individual particles that are generally invisible to the naked eye, similar to smoke in air. The measurement of turbidity is a key test of water quality.

Fluids can contain suspended solid matter consisting of particles of many different sizes. While some suspended material will be large enough and heavy enough to settle rapidly to the bottom of the container if a liquid sample is left to stand (the settable solids), very small particles will settle only very slowly or not at all if the sample is regularly agitated or the particles are colloidal. These small solid particles cause the liquid to appear turbid.

Turbidity (or haze) is also applied to transparent solids such as glass or plastic. In plastic production, haze is defined as the percentage of light that is deflected more than 2.5° from the incoming light direction.

Tyndall effect

The Tyndall effect, also known as Willis–Tyndall scattering, is light scattering by particles in a colloid or in a very fine suspension. It is named after the 19th-century physicist John Tyndall. It is similar to Rayleigh scattering, in that the intensity of the scattered light is inversely proportional to the fourth power of the wavelength, so blue light is scattered much more strongly than red light. An example in everyday life is the blue colour sometimes seen in the smoke emitted by motorcycles, in particular two-stroke machines where the burnt engine oil provides these


Under the Tyndall effect, the longer wavelengths are more transmitted while the shorter wavelengths are more diffusely reflected via scattering. The Tyndall effect is seen when light-scattering particulate matter is dispersed in an otherwise light-transmitting medium, when the diameter of an individual particle is the range of roughly between 40 and 900 nm, i.e. somewhat below or near the wavelengths of visible light (400–750 nm).

It is particularly applicable to colloidal mixtures and fine suspensions; for example, the Tyndall effect is used in nephelometers to determine the size and density of particles in aerosols and other colloidal matter (see ultramicroscope and turbidimeter).

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