United States Pharmacopeia online
Select Pharmacopoeia
The refractive index (n) of a substance is the ratio of the velocity of light in air to the velocity of light in the substance. It is valuable in the identification of substances and the detection of impurities.
Although the standard temperature for Pharmacopeial measurements is 25, many of the refractive index specifications in the individual monographs call for determining this value at 20. The temperature should be carefully adjusted and maintained, since the refractive index varies significantly with temperature.
The values for refractive index given in this Pharmacopeia are for the D line of sodium (doublet at 589.0 nm and 589.6 nm). Most instruments available are designed for use with white light but are calibrated to give the refractive index in terms of the D line of sodium light.
The Abbé refractometer measures the range of refractive index for those Pharmacopeial materials for which such values are given. Other refractometers of equal or greater accuracy may be employed.
To achieve the theoretical accuracy of ±0.0001, it is necessary to calibrate the instrument against a standard provided by the manufacturer and to check frequently the temperature control and cleanliness of the instrument by determining the refractive index of distilled water, which is 1.3330 at 20 and 1.3325 at 25.

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