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Any phenomenon associated with the propagation of individual waves at speeds that depend on their wavelengths. Wavelength determines the speeds at which waves travel through media. This variation in speed causes radiation to separate into components that have different frequencies and wavelengths. For example, when a beam of white light is sent through a glass prism, refraction causes the beam to disperse into an array of its component colours of light, producing a rainbowlike effect.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on dispersion, visit Britannica.com.