It was first established that white light, or the nearly white light that emanates from the sun, is a mixture of colors in 1666, when an Italian priest’s experiment results were analyzed and explained by Sir Isaac Newton.
Many before had conducted optical experiments that showed that white light splits into many different colors when it enters another material, or medium. But Newton was the first to understand this phenomenon, which is known by the term diffraction.
Newton passed sunlight through a prism, and found out, like many before him, that the emerging light was not merely white sunlight, but a spectrum of colors. Newton explained this phenomenon by a theory that light is a waveform, and white light is a mixture of light rays of different colors that the glass prism deviated by different amounts, with red light being deviated consistently the least and violet light deviating the most.
The reason behind the deviation was later discovered after nearly a century. The answer, today known widely throughout the world, lay in the discovery of “frequency” and “wavelength.” The principle of diffraction rests on the basis of the fact that waves passing through a different medium experience a change in velocity, and according to their frequency, they are diffracted by different amounts. Thus, the glass prism experiment enables us to view the different frequencies, or colors, present in white light.
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