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 while for mixtures, the index of refraction can be calculated from the composition of the material using several mixing rules such as the Gladstone–Dale relation and Lorentz–Lorenz equation.

Types of refractometers

There are four main types of refractometers: traditional handheld refractometers, digital handheld refractometers, laboratory or Abbe refractometers, and inline process refractometers. There is also the Rayleigh Refractometer used (typically) for measuring the refractive indices of gases.

In veterinary medicine, a refractometer is used to measure the total plasma protein in a blood samples.

In drug diagnostics, a refractometer is used to measure the specific gravity of human urine.

In gemology/gemmology, the gemstone refractometer is one the fundamental pieces of equipment used in a gemological laboratory. Gemstones are transparent minerals and can therefore be examined using optical methods. Refractive index is a material constant, dependent on the chemical composition of a substance. The refractometer is used to help identify gem materials by measuring their refractive index, one of the principal properties used in determining the type of a gemstone. Due to the dependence of the refractive index on the wavelength of the light used (i.e. dispersion), the measurement is normally taken at the wavelength of the sodium line D-line (NaD) of ~589 nm. This is either filtered out from daylight or generated with a monochromatic light-emitting diode (LED). Certain stones such as rubies, sapphires, tourmalines and topaz are optically anisotropic. They demonstrate birefringence based on the polarisation plane of the light. The two different refractive indexes are classified using a polarisation filter. Gemstone refractometers are available both as classic optical instruments and as electronic measurement devices with a digital display.

In marine aquarium keeping, a refractometer is used to measure the salinity and specific gravity of the water. In the Automobile Industry, a refractometer is used to measure the Coolant Concentration and the Ph Value of the Coolant Oils for the CNC Machining Process.

In homebrewing, a refractometer is used to measure the specific gravity before fermentation to determine the amount of fermentable sugars which will potentially be converted to alcohol.

In beekeeping, a refractometer is used to measure the amount of water in honey.

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