I need a commercially available liquid with the following properties:

  • refractive index $n > 2$ at room temperature $(T \approx\pu{23 °C});$
  • transparent in visible region $(380$ to $\pu{700 nm});$
  • suitable for gap fillers in refractometers (gap between prism and stones);
  • not poisonous.

What is the chemical composition of such liquid? The RI liquids with related properties I found online usually only have $n = 1.81.$

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @Persian_Gulf So a liquid with n>2 but which only transmits, say, 390nm-700nm is no good for you? It must have transmission down to 380nm? What is a tolerable absorption coefficient over than range? n is also not constant over the range in any material. Do you care what the index dispersion of the liquid is? $\endgroup$
    – J...
    Aug 20, 2019 at 10:36
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    $\begingroup$ By any chance, does this question have to deal with gemology and OTL ("over the limit") refractive index measurements of gemstones? If so, please see this URL for how to modify a microscope to measure refractive indices above 1.81: gemsociety.org/article/measuring-gemstone-ri-1-81 . Given the stated requirements (room temperature; 380-700 nm; transparent), the standard sulfur in methylene iodide is the practical solution for gemological and mineralogical testing with the standard methodology. $\endgroup$
    – Ed V
    Aug 20, 2019 at 14:10
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    $\begingroup$ there is such a commercial product. immersion glass for the diagnosis of diamond defects, commercial name s255_1. its predominance is 2.41, the softening temperature is 130 degrees Celsius. we use such a drug. $\endgroup$ Sep 19, 2019 at 19:43
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Can you add a link to where someone can find basic information for this product? $\endgroup$
    – J. Ari
    Sep 19, 2019 at 20:00
  • $\begingroup$ So not a liquid at 23 degrees Celcius, as specified by the OP. $\endgroup$
    – Ed V
    Sep 19, 2019 at 20:53

6 Answers 6


Taking the definition of refractive index $n = c/v$ into account, $n > 2$ means the velocity of light in the material $v$ is less than half than in vacuum $c,$ so there must be a strong interaction with the material.

One of the highest refractory index in liquids is $1.79~(\pu{20 °C})$ possessed by a solution of sulfur in methylene iodide $(\ce{CH2I2}).$ Liquids are less dense than solids and this explains why it's difficult to have a refractory index greater than 2. According to Anderson and Payne [1]:

Selenium monobromide, $\ce{Se2Br2}$, has a higher refractive index than that of any pure liquid hitherto recorded. Prepared by direct combination, the value for $\nu$ is $1.96±0.01$ rising to $2.02$ on exposure to the atmosphere, owing to decomposition of the bromide, with separation and reabsorption of selenium.

From a more recent paper [2], selenium monobromide is confirmed as one of the liquid with the highest refraction index $(n > 2).$ However, diiodomethane is more easily accessible commercially.

A promising candidate solvent is the organic liquid diiodomethane $(\ce{CH2I2}),$ which is one of the liquids with the highest known refractive index values $(n = 1.74).$ While other high refractive index liquids exist (phenyldiiodoarsine $(\ce{C6H5AsI2})$ with $n = 1.85$ and selenium monobromide $(\ce{Se2Br2})$ with $n = 2.1),$ diiodomethane has the key advantage of being commercially available. In addition, diiodomethane is an excellent solvent, and many liquid formulations using salts dissolved in diiodomethane are reported to increase the refractive index and are even available commercially.


  1. Anderson, B. W.; Payne, C. J. Liquids of High Refractive Index. Nature 1934, 133 (3350), 66–67. DOI: 10.1038/133066b0.
  2. Laskar, J. M.; Kumar, P. S.; Herminghaus, S.; Daniels, K. E.; Schröter, M. High Refractive Index Immersion Liquid for Superresolution 3D Imaging Using Sapphire-Based Aplanatic Numerical Aperture Increasing Lens Optics. Appl. Opt., 2016, 55 (12), 3165–3169. DOI: 10.1364/AO.55.003165.
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Ah, and why you'd think sulfur in any solvent would be transparent? $\endgroup$
    – Mithoron
    Aug 20, 2019 at 14:36
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    $\begingroup$ Important note, "hitherto recorded" refers to 1934, the year of the paper. $\endgroup$
    – Davidmh
    Aug 20, 2019 at 14:54
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    $\begingroup$ @Mithoron it is sulphur in CH2I2 not in any solvent! $\endgroup$
    – C.X.F.
    Aug 20, 2019 at 17:18

To complement @blu_potatos's answer, there are some other contenders having refractive index greater than 2

  1. Arsenic di/trisulfide and sulfur and/or selenium and/or mercuric sulfide in arsenic tribromide solvent having refractive index ranging from 2.0 to 2.07 (arsenic tribromide seem to attack the lead-glass prisms of refractometers, corroding metal, poisonous in nature and reactive toward some minerals)
  2. phosphorus and/or sulfur in carbon sulfide solvent having R.I= 2.01/2.07 (carbon disulfide is highly volatile, very flammable and poisonous. Solutions containing white phosphorus should be kept in the dark as light causes the conversion of the white phosphorus to the red form, which is more poisonous).
  3. Selenium and/or sulfur in phosphorus solvent having R.I =2.2-2.5 (Solutions of selenium in phosphorus cannot be stored for long under water as they decompose).
  4. Selenium in selenium monobromide solvent having R.I>2.02 (Selenium monobromide is unstable decomposing to selenium)
  5. A ternary system of phosphorus-sulfur-methylene iodide having R.I upto 2.06 has been observed

\begin{array}{c|c} \mathbf{component} & \mathbf{R.I} \\\hline \text{P(solid) at 29°C } & \text{2.15}\\ \text{P(liq.) at 44°C } & \text{2.10}\\ \text{P-S-CH2I2 at 25°C } & \text{2.06} \\ \text{P-CH2I2(satd.) at 18°C} & \text{1.94}\\ \text{CH2I2 at 15°C } & \text{1.74}\end{array}

There are loads of other liquids having R.I value in between 1.5-2.0 which are stable and can be used commercially. See references


  1. http://www.minsocam.org/ammin/AM40/AM40_398.pdf (1-4)
  2. http://www.minsocam.org/ammin/AM21/AM21_245.pdf (5)
  3. https://www.osapublishing.org/DirectPDFAccess/71A8545D-AFC6-6350-82F044C815273272_338928/ao-55-12-3165.pdf?da=1&id=338928&seq=0&mobile=no
  • 8
    $\begingroup$ Are you just listing the real part of a complex index of refraction of opaque liquids? Or is a solution of selenium in phosphorous somehow transparent at some wavelengths? (cf. Born & Wolf; Alkali metals transparent to UV? Cesium transparent to blue?) $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Aug 18, 2019 at 15:37
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    $\begingroup$ Hmmm, none of these seem especially attractive to use in a classroom demonstration ... $\endgroup$
    – davidbak
    Aug 18, 2019 at 17:21
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @davidbak yeah, I won't recommend using those chemicals. They are nasty. $\endgroup$ Aug 18, 2019 at 17:24
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ -1 Seriously, what does selenium dissolved in phosphorous actually look like? Are you sure it's not metallic and opaque, and you've simply dropped the imaginary part of the index of refraction? Which materials in your list can actually transmit light to any appreciable degree? $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Aug 20, 2019 at 1:49

Solutions of phosphorous in carbon disulfide are not only smelly and toxic, but they're hideously prone to catching fire. Methylene iodide is carcinogenic. Selenium and its compounds are toxic and notoriously evil-smelling. Because we're playing around in the periodic table's bad neighborhood, high refractive index (RI) liquids are uniformly extremely unpleasant.

The RI of liquid iodine is 1.934 at 114 °C [1]. This might be the best candidate for conducting experiments. Transparency in the visible range (above 450 nm) is very limited, but at least the stuff won't incinerate you, kill you, or induce your neighbors to kill you.


  1. Donaldson, A.; Caplin, A. D. The Optical Properties of Liquid Bromine and Iodine. Philos. mag. B, 1986, 54 (3), 231–239. DOI: 10.1080/13642818608239022.

In gemological testing of the refractive indices of gemstones, the upper limit of refractive index is $1.81,$ if a contact liquid is used in a conventional gemological refractometer. See, for example, The International Gem Society — How to Measure an OTL Gemstone Refractive Index. As noted in The Gemology Project — Refractometer, the two high refractive index contact liquids are

  1. a saturated solution of sulfur in diiodomethane $(n = 1.79);$
  2. a saturated solution of sulfur, diiodomethane and tetraiodoethylene $(n = 1.81).$

Not the most pleasant solutions, but much better than the exotic and far more toxic possibilities that

are so toxic that they are only used in specially equipped laboratories.

There is no such RI liquid that would satisfy all parameters requested by OP.


Besides the already mentioned negatives of 'Highly Toxic', 'Noxious', 'Flammable', 'Carcinogenic', 'Corrosive', it needs to be understood that in order to use such high RI materials, a suitably high RI Prism or Hemicylinder and appropriate scale are also required ( there were only ever a few such instruments ever produced - using, Sphene, Strontium Titanate and Diamond - none of which were made commercially ).

My first response to your question was - what is it that you are looking to test ?

If it is a natural ( or even synthetic ) OTL stone I would suggest a 'Digital' Refractometer ( ie. Reflectometer ), which although somewhat inaccurate, will get you close - then confirm it with an SG. NM Aug, '22


Sucrose or glucose in H2O = approx 1.4-1.5 depending on composition and concentration

Glycerol = 1.473 Toluene = 1.5 Chlorobenzene = 1.524

Getting higher than that without very high flammability/toxicity/reactivity is hard

  • 5
    $\begingroup$ See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_refractive_indices for some approaching 2 $\endgroup$ Aug 19, 2019 at 6:05
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    $\begingroup$ If someone's looking for a refractive index greater than 2, a list of substances with refractive indices around 1.5 isn't very useful. $\endgroup$
    – Mark
    Aug 19, 2019 at 23:41
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    $\begingroup$ @Mark I have a feeling that answer telling no, it's a bad idea, even indirectly, is only appropriate here. Much better then then listing hideous and mostly opaque things, just because they're on some list. $\endgroup$
    – Mithoron
    Aug 20, 2019 at 14:32

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