Diffraction and Spectroscopy
Harsh Menon
Undergraduate Student, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Prescott, Arizona Experiments on diffraction and spectroscopy have been one of the basic foundations of optics. In this experiment, using lasers we observe Fraunhofer and Fresnel diffraction, measure the variation of the linear size of the central maximum with slit width, try to verify the grating equation and measure the intensity of light through a circular aperture. We also use a spectrometer to study the spectra of sodium, a candle flame and sunlight.

I. INTRODUCTION Diffraction is one of the most fundamental optical phenomena and is loosely defined as the bending of light. However, a more quantitative definition would involve differentiating between the two types of diffraction phenomena – Fraunhofer and Fresnel diffraction. This experiment was aimed at investigating the two types of diffraction by shining a laser through different shapes of slits. We started off by observing the two different types of diffraction and then measured the linear size of the central maximum in the Fraunhofer diffraction regime as a function of slit width. We also observed how the diffraction pattern changes from rectangular to circular slits as well as from single to multiple slits. We then tried to verify the grating equation and then tried to reproduce the Airy pattern due to diffraction from a circular aperture. The second part of this experiment involved spectroscopy and the use of a spectrometer to identify different elements in various lights such as the candle light and even sunlight. After calibrating the spectrometer, we observed the spectrum of a sodium lamp, a candle flame and the sun. This report outlines the procedures used to accomplish the goals described above and the data obtained by implementing the experimental methods. Any shortcomings are noted and are followed up by recommendations to improve the data. II. FRAUNHOFER AND FRESNEL DIFFRACTION The setup for this experiment can be seen in Figure II.1.

Figure II.1 Setup for Fraunhofer and Fresnel Diffraction. We took a semiconductor (diode) laser and placed it on the optical bench. We then placed a closed variable width rectangular slit in front of the laser and adjusted the height of the width until the light from the laser was shining directly on the slit. We then adjusted the width of the slit until we could see the Fraunhofer diffraction pattern which can be seen in Figure II.2.

Figure II.2 Fraunhofer Diffraction Pattern The Fraunhofer diffraction lines were differentiated from the Fresnel diffraction lines by the different nature of the lines. The white light in the above figure represents the maxima and

2 the dark regions represent the minima. The Fresnel diffraction lines that were observed can be seen in Figure II.3.

where k is the wave number of the incident light and b is the width of the aperture. Using equations 1 and 2, we can see that as b (the width of the slit increases), β increases and hence the irradiance drops rapidly as θ deviates from 0(Hecht, 4ed. P452). Thus as the slit width increases, the angular width of the central maximum goes down, as can be seen in Figure 1.2 which shows the Irradiance(Y-axis) plotted against θ:

Figure II.3 Fresnel Diffraction Pattern In the figure above, the dark regions represent the maxima and the bright regions represent the minima. The Fresnel diffraction lines were not very distinct using the setup in Figure II.1. Therefore, we used a plano-concave lens of focal length 75mm and placed it 11cm ahead of the slit. This greatly enhanced our view of the diffraction pattern. After identifying the two separate regimes of diffraction, we decided to determine the slit width at which the Fraunhofer diffraction pattern transitions into the Fresnel diffraction pattern. Fraunhofer diffraction is said to dominate when the slit width is very small compared to the laser beam. The transition slit width was determined to be 12 ± 5 microns. The transition from the Fraunhofer to Fresnel pattern involved the Fraunhofer lines breaking up into two separate lines and then further splitting up into more lines until the basic nature of the pattern changed to that of the Fresnel diffraction pattern.

Figure III.1 Variation of Angular Width of the Central Maximum with Aperture Size1 This part of the experiment was performed using the setup shown in Figure II.1. The slit width was continually adjusted and the linear size of the central maximum measured with a meter rule. The data obtained can be seen in Table III.1. LINEAR CENTRAL (CM) ± 0.05 4.5 2.45 1.45 1.1 0.8 SIZE OF MAXIMUM SLIT WIDTH ( MICRONS)

6 8.5 12.5 15 20

III. VARIATION OF THE LINEAR SIZE OF THE CENTRAL MAXIMUM The intensity of the Fraunhofer diffraction pattern for a single slit is given by the following equation:

Table III.1 Linear Size vs Slit Width. A graphical representation in Figure III.2 shows how the linear size of the central maximum varies with slit width.

 sin β I (θ ) = I 0   β 

   



where I(θ) is the irradiance as a function of the angle θ, where θ is the angle measured in the x-z plane. The zeros of this irradiance will occur when β=mπ, where m= ± 1, ± 2, ± 3…2 β is defined as follows

β =

 kb   sin(θ )  2


3 \
Linear Size vs Slit Width
5 Experimental Data 4.5 Poly. (Experimental Data)

4 Linear Size of Central Maximum (cm)

3.5 y = 0.0267x2 - 0.9337x + 8.8935 3






Figure IV.1 Diffraction patterns due to a single and double slit1.
0 5 10 15 20 25 Slit Width (microns)


Figure III.1 Linear Size vs Slit Width. The limiting factor in measuring the linear size of the central maximum was the meter rule while the limiting factor in measuring the slit width was the micrometer. As can be seen from Figure III.2, the linear size of the central maximum decreases with an increase in slit width. However, the decrease is not linear. It appears to have a quadratic nature to it. One of the possible ways to expand on this experiment would be to take more data points and fit a curve to it and test the goodness of the fit using the χ2 goodness of fit test and quantify the relationship between the linear size of the central maximum and the slit width.

On switching from a double slit to a multiple slit, the number of maxima increased with more regions of maxima than the double slit. The intensity of these fringes decreased with distance from the primary or central maxima. This can be seen in the figure below.
Single and Multiple Slit Irradiance Distribution






IV. VARIATION IN DIFFRACTION PATTERNS WITH DIFFERENT TYPES OF APERTURES This part of the experiment involved observing how the diffraction pattern changed as we went from a single slit to a double slit and eventually a multiple slit. Using the same setup as shown in Figure III.1, we initially shined the laser light through a double slit and compared the diffraction pattern to that from a single slit. The major difference we observed was that there were more regions of high intensity (maxima) in the diffraction pattern of the double slit than the single slit. This can be expressed graphically in the figure below.

- 0.2 - 0.02 - 0.01




Figure IV.2 Diffraction patterns due to a single slit and a multiple slit with 4 slits

A potential future expansion of this part of the experiment could be using multiple slits with different numbers of slits and determining how the diffraction patterns change with the number of slits.

V. VERIFYING THE GRATING EQUATION The grating equation is given by the following equation

sin(θ n ) =

nλ a


4 where n is the order of the beam, λ is the wavelength of the laser beam (632.8nm) and a is the distance between the lines in the grating (1/600)mm. The setup for this part of the experiment is shown in Figure V.1.

Figure V.2 Measuring Distances. By measuring the distances and taking the inverse tangent of their ratio, the angle in the grating equation was calculated.

θ = tan −1 
Figure V.1 Setup to verify the grating equation. The laser beam was sent to a diffraction grating as a result of which the beam was diffracted to three separate points on the screen. The method in which this experiment was conducted was that one of the lab partners held the diffraction grating while the other lab partner marked off the positions of the spots on the screen. Later, the distance to from the screen to the grating, the grating to the points and between the points was measured as illustrated in the figure below.

y  D


The error in the angle was calculated using the following equation

1 − y ∆θ =   ∆y 2 +  2  ∆D 2 D D 




The data along with their associated errors are tabulated below: Measured Distance (Y) (cm) Measured Distance (D) (cm) Angle (degrees) Angle from Grating Equation (degrees) 22.417 53.5138

122 452

362.75 362.75

18.588 51.251

There is a significant deviation of the calculated angle from the angle obtained from the grating equation, more in the n=1 case than the n=2 case. The reason for this is primarily due to the systematic error in our experimental technique, specifically in the process of holding the grating. The human hand is not steady and so that is a major source of error that needs to be accounted for and improved. A better option would be to mount the grating instead of holding it.

5 The systematic error due to a shaky hand is hard to quantify and so to conclude we failed to verify the grating equation. The grating should be mounted to obtain more accurate results. We then measured the background intensity and recorded it. Then we measured the intensity using the voltmeter at different radii and measured the distance from the center of the Airy disk to those radii using a meter rule. The data obtained from the experiment is presented in both tabular and graphical form below. Voltage (V) ± 0.001 0.151 0.057 0.031 0.023 0.014 Radius (cm) ± 0.05 ± 1.6 ± 2.4 ± 3.7 ± 5.4 ± 6.6

VI. AIRY DIFFRACTION PATTERN When light is shined through a circular aperture it results in the formation of an Airy pattern given by the following equation:

 2 J (kar / L)  I = 1   kar / L 



where I is the intensity, k is the wavenumber of the incident light, a is the aperture radius, r is the radial distance from the center of the diffraction pattern and L is the distance from the aperture to the wall. J1 is a Bessel function of the first kind of order zero. The Airy pattern can be seen below which is a plot of the intensity (y-axis) versus kar/L (x-axis).

Table VI.1 Voltage vs Radius.


One of the major problems we encountered during the analysis is that our measured points were too sparse and therefore a future correction we would make to this part of the experiment would be to take more data points so as to get a better fit to the Airy Disk Pattern. Other options involve using a different type of laser to generate the Airy Disk and seeing the differences with the two lasers.

Figure VI.1 Airy Pattern (Wyant 2003). VII. CALIBRATING THE SPECTROMETER For realizing this part of the experiment, we realized that we had to project the laser beam over a considerable distance to obtain a good airy disk. So we shined our laser from one end of the laboratory to the other end of the laboratory. We used the PASCO Scientific Wheel with the smallest circular aperture and placed it in front of the laser beam. We then measured the distance from the aperture to the wall using a tape measure by following the path of the laser. The next step involved measuring the intensity and the radius of the rings of the Airy disk. We connected a photodiode to a current to voltage converter and hooked it up to a voltmeter. Before using the spectrometer to observe the spectrum of other objects, it was necessary to calibrate it. Out of choice of gases to calibrate the spectrometer, we chose helium because we wanted the gas to have an ample number of lines. Soon after, we obtained a diffraction grating and placed it inside the spectrometer as shown in Figure VII.1.


Color Blue Green Yellow Red Blue Green Yellow Red

Angle 34.6 37 44.9 53 34.6 37 44.9 53

Calculated Wavelength 460.566 486.27 570.879 657.63 470.6 497 583.9 673

Actual Wavelength 486.6 501.6 587.6 662.8 486.6 501.6 587.6 662.8

Error 0.05350185 0.030562201 0.028456433 0.007800241 0.032881217 0.009170654 0.006296801 -0.015389258

Figure VII.1 Spectrometer. After getting the grating in position, and enclosing the grating, we adjusted the telescope and the lenses until the spectral lines of helium were ell focused so that we could place the crosshairs of the spectrometer in the center of the spectral lines. The line spectra of helium can be seen below:

Average Values Blue Green Yellow Red 34.6 37 44.9 53 465.583 491.635 577.3895 665.315 Calculated Wavelength 405.945 439.146 473.418 636.21 414.5 448.6 483.8 651 486.6 501.6 587.6 662.8 Actual Wavelength 410.1 434 486.1 656.2 410.1 434 486.1 656.2 0.043191533 0.019866427 0.017376617 -0.003794508

Figure VII.1 Emission Spectrum of Helium3. We decided to make our calibration curve using the brightest spectral lines of helium, namely, blue, green, yellow, red, dim-purple, purple and teal. Since at the time of performing the experiment, we were required to calibrate the curve by hand, both lab partners made their own calibration curves and then averaged it to get a better calibration equation. The data is tabulated below and the calibration curve can be seen alongside.
Calibration Curve for the Spectrometer
700 Calibration Curve Linear (Calibration Curve) 650 y = 10.855x + 90

Color DimPurple Purple Teal Red DimPurple Purple Teal Red

Angle 29.5 32.6 35.8 51 29.5 32.6 35.8 51

Error 0.010131675 -0.011857143 0.026089282 0.030463273 -0.01072909 -0.033640553 0.004731537 0.007924413

Average Values DimPurple Purple Teal Red

29.5 32.6 35.8 51

410.2225 443.873 478.609 643.605

410.1 434 486.1 656.2

-0.000298708 -0.022748848 0.015410409 0.019193843

Wavelength (Nanometers)




Table VII.1 Data to plot the Calibration Curve.


400 29 34 39 44 Angle (Degrees) 49 54 59

Figure VII.2 Calibration Curve. Wavelength (nm) vs Angle (degrees).

The calibration equation was obtained to be y = 10.855 + 90. After having obtained the calibration equation, we could then proceed to the next parts of the experiment which involved studying the spectra of different light sources.

7 VIII. SODIUM EMISSION LINES The sodium emission lines have two primary yellow lines known as the sodium D emission lines in addition to several other lines. The basic spectrum of sodium can be seen below: IX. THE SPECTRUM OF A CANDLE FLAME This part of the experiment required us to investigate the spectrum of a candle flame. The setup for this experiment can be seen below.

Figure VIII.1 Sodium Emission Lines3. We took a sodium lamp and placed it where the helium gas discharge was. Once again, we focused the spectrometer onto the lines, slightly increasing and decreasing the width of the emission lines when they got too bright or faint respectively. Figure IX.1 Setup to investigate the spectra of a candle. After measuring the angles at which the lines occur, the wavelengths of these lines were determined by using the calibration equation. The data obtained from this experiment is tabulated below. Wavelength (nm) ± 0.05 578.475 578.475 554.594 554.594 577.3895 578.475 558.936 557.8505 509.003 491.635 We replaced the sodium lamp with a candle and placed a large plano-convex lens between the flame and the spectrometer so as to focus the light from the candle onto the spectrometer. We then adjusted the distance between the lens and the candle flame until we could image the light and then we placed the spectrometer at the point where the light got focused. On observing the candle through the spectrometer, we first observed continuous spectra with light of all colors merging into one another. However, we also noticed a yellow region which was brighter than the background yellow color. On focusing the lens we saw two yellow lines. However, they kept merging into the background and were thus hard to detect. We moved the candle to the right of the spectrometer in an attempt to gain insight into what was going on. We noticed the same two yellow lines, only this time with a black background. As we continued looking at the two yellow lines, we saw the continuous spectra re-emerge and disappear. However, the yellow lines remained. On measuring the angles of the yellow lines we obtained value of 44.8 ± 0.05 degrees and 44.9 ± 0.05 degrees. By plugging these values into the calibration curve, we obtained wave length values of 576.3nm and 577.39nm respectively. From Table VIII.1 we can see that these values correspond to the wave lengths of the Sodium D Lines. X. THE SOLAR SPECTRUM Investigating the solar spectrum was one of the most challenging parts of this experiment and was accomplished by using a concave mirror to direct the sunlight from outside onto the eyepiece of the spectrometer.

Color Yellow Yellow Red Red Yellow Yellow Green Green Green Green-Blue

Angle(degrees) ± 0.05 45 45 42.8 42.8 44.9 45 43.2 43.1 38.6 37

Table VIII.1 Sodium Lines.

8 The hardest part in the setup was adjusting the height and inclination of the mirror to get the light shining onto the spectrometer and prevent it from moving around. One of the lab partners went out and held the mirror steady while the other took the measurements. The data obtained from this part of the experiment is tabulated below.
Angle (degrees) Wavelength (nm) 655.5455 644.6905 642.5195 641.434 637.092 636.0065 634.921 633.8355 631.6645 630.579 629.4935 620.8095 619.724 616.4675 611.04 608.869 605.6125 605.6125 602.356 600.185 600.185 599.0995 577.3895 576.304 574.133 573.0475 553.5085 549.1665 546.9955 545.91 540.4825 535.055 533.9695 532.884 531.7985 520.9435 513.345 511.174 505.7465 504.661 502.49 Fe I 532.419 -0.000873372 Mg I 552.843 -0.001203778 Ca I 616.218 -0.000404889 H_Alpha Element Expected Wavelength (nm) 656.281 0.001120709 Error

± 0.05
Red 52.1 51.1 50.9 50.8 50.4 50.3 50.2 50.1 49.9 49.8 49.7 48.9 48.8 48.5 48 47.8 Orange 47.5 47.5 47.2 47 47 46.9 Yellow 44.9 44.8 44.6 44.5 Green 42.7 42.3 42.1 42 41.5 41 40.9 40.8 40.7 39.7 39 38.8 38.3 38.2 38



36.5 35.8 35.6

486.2075 478.609 476.438 459.07 442.7875 436.2745 431.9325 430.847 428.676 422.163 411.308 404.795 400.453





34 32.5 31.9 31.5 31.4 31.2 30.6 29.6 29 28.6




Ca I Fe I

422.674 438.356

0.00120897 0.07656106

Table X.1 Solar Spectrum The future part of this experiment would involve repeating the experiment a couple of times and accurately quantifying the data as well as identifying it.
1 Wyant, J.C. Optics 505: Diffraction and Interferometry. (2003), http://www.optics.arizona.edu/jcwyant/optics505(2000).htm 2 Hecht, E. Optics (4th ed,) (Addison Wesley, New York, 2002) 3 Köppen, J. Spectra of Gas Discharges. (2003), http://astro.ustrasbg.fr/~koppen/discharge/

XI. CONCLUSION The overall goals of the experiment were met as we successfully identified the two types of diffraction and went on to determine the relationship between the linear size of the central maximum of the Fraunhofer diffraction pattern as a function of the slit width. Different types and shapes of slits were tested and the Airy disk pattern was observed and measured. Using the spectrometer, we managed to successfully calibrate it and study the spectra of a sodium lamp, candle flame and the sun. We however failed to verify the grating equation and propose to carry out future experiments to better our experimental techniques and obtain more accurate results. Other recommendations mentioned in different sections of this report would also help to obtain more accurate data and gain a greater insight into the diffraction and spectroscopy.

XII. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS The author is indebted to his lab partner, Joel Lindstrom, without whose help and support this experiment would not have been possible. The author would also like to extend a special thanks to Dr. Andri Gretarsson whose helpful hints and discussions in the laboratory were indispensable.