Department of Energy Argonne National Laboratory Office of Science NEWTON's Homepage NEWTON's Homepage
NEWTON, Ask A Scientist!
NEWTON Home Page NEWTON Teachers Visit Our Archives Ask A Question How To Ask A Question Question of the Week Our Expert Scientists Volunteer at NEWTON! Frequently Asked Questions Referencing NEWTON About NEWTON About Ask A Scientist Education At Argonne Color Reflection Theory
Name: Christopher S.
Status: educator
Age: 50s
Location: N/A
Country: N/A
Date: Thursday, November 28, 2002

This question is about reflection of light. How is it that a particular substance can reflect a certain frequency of light? Is it actually absorbed then emitted, or does that wave "bounce around" then come back. I have a basic, IGCSE, understanding of absorption and emission spectra but the nature of reflection is unclear to me.


I am not aware of any substance that reflects only one frequency of light. Rather, reflection is usually for a large range of frequencies.

Color is imparted to the reflected light because the reflecting surface absorbs some frequency ranges more than others. The reflected light therefore is dominated by the non-absorbed light frequencies. Thus a red piece of paper reflects some light in all ranges but most of the light in the blue through orange range is absorbed. The reflected light is therefore dominated by red light.

Greg Bradburn

Click here to return to the Physics Archives

NEWTON is an electronic community for Science, Math, and Computer Science K-12 Educators, sponsored and operated by Argonne National Laboratory's Educational Programs, Andrew Skipor, Ph.D., Head of Educational Programs.

For assistance with NEWTON contact a System Operator (, or at Argonne's Educational Programs

Educational Programs
Building 360
9700 S. Cass Ave.
Argonne, Illinois
60439-4845, USA
Update: June 2012
Weclome To Newton

Argonne National Laboratory