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The Optics of LifeA Biologist's Guide to Light in Nature$
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Sönke Johnsen

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780691139906

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: October 2017

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691139906.001.0001

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(p.116) Chapter Five Scattering
The Optics of Life

Sönke Johnsen

Princeton University Press

This chapter discusses scattering. As mentioned already, optics is primarily photons interacting with electrons, atoms, and molecules. If the energy of the photon matches the difference in energy between two levels of excitation, then the photon vanishes, its energy converted into other forms. However, if the photon's energy does not find a match among the differences in possible energy states, a new photon will quickly be emitted. The new photon is usually the same energy—and thus the same wavelength—as the old one, making it appear as if the original photon bounced, which is why this nonabsorptive interaction is known as “scattering.” When the energy of the new photon matches that of the old one, the scattering is known as elastic. When the energy of the new photon is lower, the scattering is known as inelastic. All the observed phenomena of scattering—refraction, reflection, structural colors, turbidity, and more—are based on these few principles.

Keywords:   scattering, optics, photon energy, photons, elastic scattering, inelastic scattering

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