Encyclopedia … combined with a great Buyer's Guide!

Sponsoring this encyclopedia:     and others

Group Index

Definition: the ratio of the vacuum velocity of light to the group velocity in a medium

Alternative term: group refractive index

German: Gruppenindex

Category: general optics

Formula symbol: ng

Units: (dimensionless)

How to cite the article; suggest additional literature


In analogy with the refractive index, the group index (or group refractive index) ng of a material can be defined as the ratio of the vacuum velocity of light to the group velocity in the medium:

group index

For calculating this, one obviously needs to know not only the refractive index at the wavelength of interest, but also its frequency dependence.

The group index is used, e.g., to calculate time delays for ultrashort pulses propagating in a medium, or the free spectral range of a resonator containing a dispersive medium.

For crystals or glasses, the group index in the visible or near-infrared spectral range is typically larger than the ordinary refractive index, which determines the phase velocity. This implies that the group velocity is often (but not always) lower than the phase velocity.

refractive index of silica
Figure 1: Refractive index (solid lines) and group index (dotted lines) of silica versus wavelength at temperatures of 0 °C (blue), 100 °C (black) and 200 °C (red).

Note that for optical fibers and other waveguides, one uses the so-called effective refractive index instead of the ordinary refractive index in order to calculate the group velocity, since waveguide dispersion has to be taken into account. Based on that, an effective group index of a fiber could be calculated.

See also: group velocity, refractive index
and other articles in the category general optics


If you like this article, share it with your friends and colleagues, e.g. via social media: