A refractometer is a laboratory or field device for the measurement of an index of refraction (refractometry). The index of refraction is calculated from Snell’s law and can be calculated from the composition of the material using the Gladstone–Dale relation.
Schematic setup of an automatic refractometer: An LED light source is imaged under a wide range of angles onto a prism surface which is in contact with a sample. Depending on the difference in the refractive index between prism material and sample the light is partly transmitted or totally reflected. The critical angle of total reflection is determined by measuring the reflected light intensity as a function of the incident angle – Source of image: Anton Paar GmbH, www.anton-paar.com
Automatic refractometers automatically measure the refractive index of a sample. The automatic measurement of the refractive index of the sample is based on the determination of the critical angle of total reflection. A light source, usually a long-life LED, is focused onto a prism surface via a lens system. An interference filter guarantees the specified wavelength. Due to focusing light to a spot at the prism surface, a wide range of different angles is covered. As shown in the figure “Schematic setup of an automatic refractometer” the measured sample is in direct contact with the measuring prism. Depending on its refractive index, the incoming light below the critical angle of total reflection is partly transmitted into the sample, whereas for higher angles of incidence the light is totally reflected. This dependence of the reflected light intensity from the incident angle is measured with a high-resolution sensor array. From the video signal taken with the CCD sensor the refractive index of the sample can be calculated. This method of detecting the angle of total reflection is independent on the sample properties. It is even possible to measure the refractive index of optically dense strongly absorbing samples or samples containing air bubbles or solid particles . Furthermore, only a few microliters are required and the sample can be recovered. This determination of the refraction angle is independent of vibrations and other environmental disturbances.
Why we need to know?
- A refractometer uses refractive light passing through plant sap or fruit or vegetable juice to take a reading of nutrient levels.
- The refractometer is a cheap and effective way to take the guesswork out of growing, by giving you a scientific guide as to the health of your crops and an indicator on what to do to make them grow to their potential.