As every child is sure to find out at some point in their life, lenses can be an endless source of fun. They can be used for everything from examining small objects and type to focusing the sun’s rays. In the latter case, hopefully they choose to be humanitarian and burn things like paper and grass rather than ants! But the fact remains, a Convex Lens is the source of this scientific marvel. Typically made of glass or transparent plastic, a convex lens has at least one surface that curves outward like the exterior of a sphere. Of all lenses, it is the most common given its many uses.
A convex lens is also known as a converging lens. A converging lens is a lens that converges rays of light that are traveling parallel to its principal axis. They can be identified by their shape which is relatively thick across the middle and thin at the upper and lower edges. The edges are curved outward rather than inward. As light approaches the lens, the rays are parallel. As each ray reaches the glass surface, it refracts according to the effective angle of incidence at that point of the lens. Since the surface is curved, different rays of light will refract to different degrees; the outermost rays will refract the most. This runs contrary to what occurs when a divergent lens (otherwise known as concave, biconcave or plano-concave) is employed. In this case, light is refracted away from the axis and outward.
Lenses are classified by the curvature of the two optical surfaces. If the lens is biconvex or plano-convex, the lens is called positive or converging. Most convex lenses fall into this category. A lens is biconvex (or double convex, or just convex) if both surfaces are convex. These types of lenses are used in the manufacture of magnifying glasses. If both surfaces have the same radius of curvature, the lens is known as an equiconvex biconvex. If one of the surfaces is flat, the lens is plano-convex (or plano-concave depending on the curvature of the other surface). A lens with one convex and one concave side is convex-concave or meniscus. These lenses are used in the manufacture of corrective lenses.
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For an illustrated example of how images are formed with a convex lens, click here.
We’ve also recorded an episode of Astronomy Cast all about the Telescope. Listen here, Episode 33: Choosing and Using a Telescope.