Marian and Michael are traveling in Thailand and decide to take a glass-bottomed boat tour.
Michael: So, once we get on board, do we have to wear slippers so we don’t step through the bottom of the boat?
Marian: That’s right. And jumping up and down is also strictly forbidden.1
Michael: You know, I’ve never understood why glass, or any material for that matter, is transparent.
Marian: Well, you know that light acts like a wave of electromagnetic energy, right? Any material that can conduct2 the wave is transparent.
Michael: I see. It’s got something to do with the structure of a material.
Marian: Right. It’s kind of complicated. If the electrons3 in a material cannot absorb4 any energy, then the wave will pass through undisturbed.
Michael: So the material will be transparent.
Marian: And if the electrons can absorb energy, then the material isn’t transparent.
Michael: But what about coal and diamonds? One is black and the other is transparent, yet they’re both made up of the same carbon atoms with the same electrons.
Marian: The electrons in coal aren’t tied up as tightly as they are in diamonds. So they’re free to grab the light and prevent it from passing through.
Michael: Now it all makes sense. Ready to board, Ms. Einstein?
Marian: Let’s go. My lab coat doubles as a life jacket.---by Brian Greene/Sonya Roy