Reflection coefficient

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In physics and electrical engineering the reflection coefficient is a parameter that describes how much of an electromagnetic wave is reflected by an impedance discontinuity in the transmission medium. It is equal to the ratio of the amplitude of the reflected wave to the incident wave, with each expressed as phasors. For example, it is used in optics to calculate the amount of light that is reflected from a surface with a different index of refraction, such as a glass surface, or in an electrical transmission line to calculate how much of the electromagnetic wave is reflected by an impedance. The reflection coefficient is closely related to the transmission coefficient . The reflectance of a system is also sometimes called a "reflection coefficient".

Physics Study of the fundamental properties of matter and energy

Physics is the natural science that studies matter and its motion and behavior through space and time and that studies the related entities of energy and force. Physics is one of the most fundamental scientific disciplines, and its main goal is to understand how the universe behaves.

Electrical engineering field of engineering that deals with electricity

Electrical engineering is a professional engineering discipline that generally deals with the study and application of electricity, electronics, and electromagnetism. This field first became an identifiable occupation in the later half of the 19th century after commercialization of the electric telegraph, the telephone, and electric power distribution and use. Subsequently, broadcasting and recording media made electronics part of daily life. The invention of the transistor, and later the integrated circuit, brought down the cost of electronics to the point they can be used in almost any household object.

The amplitude of a periodic variable is a measure of its change over a single period. There are various definitions of amplitude, which are all functions of the magnitude of the difference between the variable's extreme values. In older texts the phase is sometimes called the amplitude.


A wave experiences partial transmittance and partial reflectance when the medium through which it travels suddenly changes. The reflection coefficient determines the ratio of the reflected wave amplitude to the incident wave amplitude. Partial transmittance.gif
A wave experiences partial transmittance and partial reflectance when the medium through which it travels suddenly changes. The reflection coefficient determines the ratio of the reflected wave amplitude to the incident wave amplitude.

Different specialties have different applications for the term.


In telecommunications, the reflection coefficient is the ratio of the complex amplitude of the reflected wave to that of the incident wave. In particular, at a discontinuity in a transmission line, it is the complex ratio of the electric field strength of the reflected wave () to that of the incident wave (). This is typically represented with a (capital gamma) and can be written as:

Telecommunication transmission of information between locations using electromagnetics

Telecommunication is the transmission of signs, signals, messages, words, writings, images and sounds or information of any nature by wire, radio, optical or other electromagnetic systems. Telecommunication occurs when the exchange of information between communication participants includes the use of technology. It is transmitted either electrically over physical media, such as cables, or via electromagnetic radiation. Such transmission paths are often divided into communication channels which afford the advantages of multiplexing. Since the Latin term communicatio is considered the social process of information exchange, the term telecommunications is often used in its plural form because it involves many different technologies.

Ratio relationship between two numbers of the same kind

In mathematics, a ratio is a relationship between two numbers indicating how many times the first number contains the second. For example, if a bowl of fruit contains eight oranges and six lemons, then the ratio of oranges to lemons is eight to six. Similarly, the ratio of lemons to oranges is 6:8 and the ratio of oranges to the total amount of fruit is 8:14.

Transmission line specialized cable or other structure designed to carry alternating current of radio frequency

In radio-frequency engineering, a transmission line is a specialized cable or other structure designed to conduct alternating current of radio frequency, that is, currents with a frequency high enough that their wave nature must be taken into account. Transmission lines are used for purposes such as connecting radio transmitters and receivers with their antennas, distributing cable television signals, trunklines routing calls between telephone switching centres, computer network connections and high speed computer data buses.

The reflection coefficient may also be established using other field or circuit quantities.

Electronic circuit electrical circuit with active components such as transistors, valves and integrated circuits; electrical network that contains active electronic components, generally nonlinear and require complex design and analysis tools

An electronic circuit is composed of individual electronic components, such as resistors, transistors, capacitors, inductors and diodes, connected by conductive wires or traces through which electric current can flow. To be referred to as electronic, rather than electrical, generally at least one active component must be present. The combination of components and wires allows various simple and complex operations to be performed: signals can be amplified, computations can be performed, and data can be moved from one place to another.

The reflection coefficient of a load is determined by its impedance (load impedance) and the impedance toward the source (source impedance).

Simple circuit configuration showing measurement location of reflection coefficient. Reflection Coefficient Circuit.svg
Simple circuit configuration showing measurement location of reflection coefficient.

Notice that a negative reflection coefficient means that the reflected wave receives a 180°, or , phase shift.

The magnitude (designated by vertical bars) of the reflection coefficient can be calculated from the standing wave ratio, :

Absolute value magnitude of the number on the real number line; (of a real number x) non-negative value of x without regard to its sign

In mathematics, the absolute value or modulus|x| of a real number x is the non-negative value of x without regard to its sign. Namely, |x| = x for a positive x, |x| = −x for a negative x, and |0| = 0. For example, the absolute value of 3 is 3, and the absolute value of −3 is also 3. The absolute value of a number may be thought of as its distance from zero.

In radio engineering and telecommunications, standing wave ratio (SWR) is a measure of impedance matching of loads to the characteristic impedance of a transmission line or waveguide. Impedance mismatches result in standing waves along the transmission line, and SWR is defined as the ratio of the partial standing wave's amplitude at an antinode (maximum) to the amplitude at a node (minimum) along the line.

The reflection coefficient is displayed graphically using a Smith chart.

Smith chart

The Smith chart, invented by Phillip H. Smith (1905–1987), is a graphical aid or nomogram designed for electrical and electronics engineers specializing in radio frequency (RF) engineering to assist in solving problems with transmission lines and matching circuits. The Smith chart can be used to simultaneously display multiple parameters including impedances, admittances, reflection coefficients, scattering parameters, noise figure circles, constant gain contours and regions for unconditional stability, including mechanical vibrations analysis. The Smith chart is most frequently used at or within the unity radius region. However, the remainder is still mathematically relevant, being used, for example, in oscillator design and stability analysis.


Reflection coefficient is used in feeder testing for reliability of medium.

Optics and microwaves

In optics and electromagnetics in general, "reflection coefficient" can refer to either the amplitude reflection coefficient described here, or the reflectance, depending on context. Typically, the reflectance is represented by a capital R, while the amplitude reflection coefficient is represented by a lower-case r.These related concepts are covered by Fresnel equations in classical optics.

Optics The branch of physics that studies light

Optics is the branch of physics that studies the behaviour and properties of light, including its interactions with matter and the construction of instruments that use or detect it. Optics usually describes the behaviour of visible, ultraviolet, and infrared light. Because light is an electromagnetic wave, other forms of electromagnetic radiation such as X-rays, microwaves, and radio waves exhibit similar properties.

Reflectance capacity of an object to reflect light

Reflectance of the surface of a material is its effectiveness in reflecting radiant energy. It is the fraction of incident electromagnetic power that is reflected at an interface. The reflectance spectrum or spectral reflectance curve is the plot of the reflectance as a function of wavelength.

Fresnel equations

The Fresnel equations describe the reflection and transmission of light when incident on an interface between different optical media. They were deduced by Augustin-Jean Fresnel who was the first to understand that light is a transverse wave, even though no one realized that the "vibrations" of the wave were electric and magnetic fields. For the first time, polarization could be understood quantitatively, as Fresnel's equations correctly predicted the differing behaviour of waves of the s and p polarizations incident upon a material interface.


Acousticians use reflection coefficients to understand the effect of different materials on their acoustic environments.

See also

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Characteristic impedance ratio of the amplitudes of voltage and current of a single wave propagating along the line

The characteristic impedance or surge impedance (usually written Z0) of a uniform transmission line is the ratio of the amplitudes of voltage and current of a single wave propagating along the line; that is, a wave travelling in one direction in the absence of reflections in the other direction. Alternatively and equivalently it can be defined as the input impedance of a transmission line when its length is infinite. Characteristic impedance is determined by the geometry and materials of the transmission line and, for a uniform line, is not dependent on its length. The SI unit of characteristic impedance is the ohm.

Polarization (waves) property of waves that can oscillate with more than one orientation

Polarization is a property applying to transverse waves that specifies the geometrical orientation of the oscillations. In a transverse wave, the direction of the oscillation is perpendicular to the direction of motion of the wave. A simple example of a polarized transverse wave is vibrations traveling along a taut string (see image); for example, in a musical instrument like a guitar string. Depending on how the string is plucked, the vibrations can be in a vertical direction, horizontal direction, or at any angle perpendicular to the string. In contrast, in longitudinal waves, such as sound waves in a liquid or gas, the displacement of the particles in the oscillation is always in the direction of propagation, so these waves do not exhibit polarization. Transverse waves that exhibit polarization include electromagnetic waves such as light and radio waves, gravitational waves, and transverse sound waves in solids. In some types of transverse waves, the wave displacement is limited to a single direction, so these also do not exhibit polarization; for example, in surface waves in liquids, the wave displacement of the particles is always in a vertical plane.

The propagation constant of a sinusoidal electromagnetic wave is a measure of the change undergone by the amplitude and phase of the wave as it propagates in a given direction. The quantity being measured can be the voltage, the current in a circuit, or a field vector such as electric field strength or flux density. The propagation constant itself measures the change per unit length, but it is otherwise dimensionless. In the context of two-port networks and their cascades, propagation constant measures the change undergone by the source quantity as it propagates from one port to the next.

In telecommunications, return loss is the loss of power in the signal returned/reflected by a discontinuity in a transmission line or optical fiber. This discontinuity can be a mismatch with the terminating load or with a device inserted in the line. It is usually expressed as a ratio in decibels (dB);

Waveguide structure that guides waves, typically electromagnetic waves

A waveguide is a structure that guides waves, such as electromagnetic waves or sound, with minimal loss of energy by restricting expansion to one dimension or two. There is a similar effect in water waves constrained within a canal, or guns that have barrels which restrict hot gas expansion to maximize energy transfer to their bullets. Without the physical constraint of a waveguide, wave amplitudes decrease according to the inverse square law as they expand into three dimensional space.

Impedance matching practice in electronics

In electronics, impedance matching is the practice of designing the input impedance of an electrical load or the output impedance of its corresponding signal source to maximize the power transfer or minimize signal reflection from the load.

Amplitude versus offset term for referring to the dependency of the seismic attribute, amplitude, with the distance between the source and receiver

In geophysics and reflection seismology, amplitude versus offset (AVO) or amplitude variation with offset is the general term for referring to the dependency of the seismic attribute, amplitude, with the distance between the source and receiver. AVO analysis is a technique that geophysicists can execute on seismic data to determine a rock’s fluid content, porosity, density or seismic velocity, shear wave information, fluid indicators.

Scattering parameters or S-parameters describe the electrical behavior of linear electrical networks when undergoing various steady state stimuli by electrical signals.

SWR meter Measurement device for radio equipment

The SWR meter or VSWR meter measures the standing wave ratio in a transmission line. The meter can be used to indicate the degree of mismatch between a transmission line and its load, or evaluate the effectiveness of impedance matching efforts.

Transmission coefficient coefficient describing the amplitude, intensity, or total power of a transmitted wave relative to an incident wave

The transmission coefficient is used in physics and electrical engineering when wave propagation in a medium containing discontinuities is considered. A transmission coefficient describes the amplitude, intensity, or total power of a transmitted wave relative to an incident wave.

Filters designed using the image impedance methodology suffer from a peculiar flaw in the theory. The predicted characteristics of the filter are calculated assuming that the filter is terminated with its own image impedances at each end. This will not usually be the case; the filter will be terminated with fixed resistances. This causes the filter response to deviate from the theoretical. This article explains how the effects of image filter end terminations can be taken into account.

Transfer-matrix method (optics)

The transfer-matrix method is a method used in optics and acoustics to analyze the propagation of electromagnetic or acoustic waves through a stratified medium. This is for example relevant for the design of anti-reflective coatings and dielectric mirrors.

Reflections of signals on conducting lines

A signal travelling along an electrical transmission line will be partly, or wholly, reflected back in the opposite direction when the travelling signal encounters a discontinuity in the characteristic impedance of the line, or if the far end of the line is not terminated in its characteristic impedance. This can happen, for instance, if two lengths of dissimilar transmission lines are joined together.

Metal-mesh optical filters are optical filters made from stacks of metal meshes and dielectric. They are used as part of an optical path to filter the incoming light to allow frequencies of interest to pass while reflecting other frequencies of light.

Frequency selective surface

A frequency-selective surface (FSS) is any thin, repetitive surface designed to reflect, transmit or absorb electromagnetic fields based on the frequency of the field. In this sense, an FSS is a type of optical filter or metal-mesh optical filters in which the filtering is accomplished by virtue of the regular, periodic pattern on the surface of the FSS. Though not explicitly mentioned in the name, FSS's also have properties which vary with incidence angle and polarization as well - these are unavoidable consequences of the way in which FSS's are constructed. Frequency-selective surfaces have been most commonly used in the radio frequency region of the electromagnetic spectrum and find use in applications as diverse as the aforementioned microwave oven, antenna radomes and modern metamaterials. Sometimes frequency selective surfaces are referred to simply as periodic surfaces and are a 2-dimensional analog of the new periodic volumes known as photonic crystals.