We demonstrate that published vectorial laws of reflection and refraction of light based solely on the cross product do not, in general, uniquely determine the direction of the reflected and refracted waves without additional information. This is because the cross product does not have a unique inverse operation, which is explained in this Letter in linear algebra terms. However, a vector is in fact uniquely determined if both the cross product (vector product) and dot product (scalar product) with a known vector are specified, which can be written as a single equation with a left-invertible matrix. It is thus possible to amend the vectorial laws of reflection and refraction to incorporate both the cross and dot products for a complete specification with unique solution. This enables highly efficient, unambiguous computation of reflected and refracted wave vectors from the incident wave and surface normal.
© 2012 Optical Society of America
Original Manuscript: December 12, 2011
Revised Manuscript: January 16, 2012
Manuscript Accepted: January 16, 2012
Published: March 1, 2012
Eric R. Tkaczyk, "Vectorial laws of refraction and reflection using the cross product and dot product," Opt. Lett. 37, 972-974 (2012)