Snellius: Who Was It and What Is It?

When one thinks of game-changers in the STEM world, several names come to mind: Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk, Marie Curie, and of course, Willebrord Snellius.

Wait…. Who?

Our friend Snellius, or Snell, as the English-speaking world calls him, can understand rainbows, split a spoon apart simply by placing it in water, and has helped the blind see.

The wizard himself.

Snellius may sound like some sort of Dutch Hippie-Neo-Jesus hybrid, but I can assure you he’s not.

Rather, Snellius discovered the Law of Refraction, otherwise known as Snell’s Law.

Quick optics lesson: Snell’s Law relates refractive indices of two mediums to their respective angles of incidence. Meaning, this law compares two materials’ abilities to refract light to the direction that light will follow when passing or propagating through these mediums.

A classic example is light passing from air to water:

This law does not only explain the phenomena I referenced above (like bending spoons) but also forms the basis for many optical systems like telescopes and cameras.

Neo clearly never read this blog post.

Now that I’ve convinced you that guy is ever so slightly more important than your average Dutchman, here’s the catch — he didn’t discover it first.

A Persian scientist named Ibn Sahl discovered this relationship more than 600 years earlier. Snellius’ work was dug up by another scientist, Christaan Huygens, as a method of proof.

Still impressed?


How can such a fraud be the namesake of your blog? It was all by chance, right? He just got lucky!

All true. Snellius was a pretty lucky guy and he’ll never have the same reputation as an Archimedes or an Einstein. But what I find valuable from his story is that he is remembered, even if it is for something that he wasn’t the first to discover. And I value that. For the duration of his life, he surrounded himself with math and science, finding a new way to recalculate pi and estimating the circumference of the earth.

I personally believe that everyone should strive to be to remembered (preferably in a positive light) and be more than a motile hunk of cells. I would think that Snellius would be one of these guys, although he found his long term remembrance in an expected way.


I have found interesting engineering-related extracurriculars hard to come by so I decided to create one myself.

With my blog, I want to inform others by doing. I envision taking up projects in all engineering disciplines and breaking down what I did, how I did it, and why it matters. I want to take learn complex subject matter (or whatever I’m interested in writing about) and try my best to break it down, and maybe talk to some engineers and share their advice. Like Snell did, I want to surround myself with what I love, so I can gain knowledge and spread my passion to others.

Thanks for reading my first post.

Please leave any and all questions, concerns, or suggestions below.

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