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Light is an electromagnetic wave. The energy in such a wave is due to the electric and magnetic

field vectors associated with them. In all electromagnetic waves, the electric and magnetic field

vectors are mutually perpendicular to each other and also perpendicular to the direction in which

the wave propagates (transverse wave).

When two light waves cross each other, due to superposition, the distribution of energy in space

may takes place. This is similar to the superposition of any two waves like mechanical, sound

etc. It is possible that in some region of space the energy is more than the energy due to

individual waves and in some other region of space, it is less than that due to individual waves.

The phenomenon of redistribution of energy due to superposition of waves is called interference.

This redistribution of energy depends upon the frequency, amplitude and the phases of individual

waves. In the following, we shall be discussing these phenomenon and the conditions to observe

interference.

Superposition of Waves: Consider two light waves each of frequency , propagating along z

axis in vacuum.

Let for the sake of simplicity, both the waves be linearly polarized (i.e. the electric field vector is

along a line) with Electric field along the x-axis.

Let the phases of individual waves at a given point in space be and . The waves can be

written as

-------------------------- (10.1.1a)

-------------------------- (10.1.1b)

The resultant wave is given by

------------------------- (10.1.2)

=

=

---------------------------(10.1.3)

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Fig.10.1.1: Resultant of two linearly polarized waves ( & ).

Where ---------------- (10.1.4)

From eqn. (10.1.3), it is evident that the resultant of two waves is another wave having same

frequency and direction of propagation, but with a different amplitude and phase.(Fig.10.1.1)

The energy associated with the resultant wave is proportional to the square of its amplitude.

The energy of individual waves is proportional is and respectively, where as the energy

of resultant wave will be

=

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= ------------------ (10.1.5)

i.e. the energy of the resultant wave is not just simple sum of energy of individual waves, but

depends upon the difference in phases of the two waves, when the phase difference is 0

or even multiple of , the energy is maximum, whereas, if the phase difference is an odd

multiple of , the energy is minimum. When the phase difference is an odd multiple of

,the energy is simply sum of the energy of two individual waves. The term is

known as interference term. (Figure),

Superposition of waves with different polarization:

So far, we have discussed the case, when the electric field vectors two light waves point in the

same direction. Let us now consider a more general case. Once again we assume that the two

waves are propagating in the z direction. The electric field vectors of these waves must lie in the

x-y plane . We have seen in the earlier section, that the amplitude of the

resultant wave, depends on the phase difference between the two waves and not on the phases of

individual waves. Let, at a given point z, one of these waves has phase zero and other is having a

phase . The two waves are now given as

---------------------- (10.1.6a)

---------------------- (10.1.6b)

The resultant wave is given by

---------------------- (10.1.7)

The resultant of these two waves will propagate along z direction; let us express the resultant

wave as

-----------------------(10.1.8)

Where is the amplitude of wave and is the phase (or the phase difference between

) . Applying the knowledge of vector additions we have

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- ----------------------- (10.1.9a)

And the phase of resultant wave as

---------------------------- (10.1.9b)

Fig. 10.1.2: phase diagram showing resultant of two

waves ( & ) with different polarisation and having phase difference .

The energy of the resultant wave is therefore given as : -------

----------- (10.1.10)

Where are the intensities of individual waves.

Eqn (10.1.10) is similar to equation (10.1.5), however, we see that resultant intensity depends not

only on the relative phase difference between the two waves, but also on the relative orientation

(polarization) of two waves.

Superposition of waves of slightly different wavelengths and frequency:

Let us now consider two light waves of frequency and wavelengths .The

corresponding small wave vectors will be .[Fig.10.1.3]

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Again for the case of simplicity, let both the waves be propagating in same direction and let

both have same state of polarization (i.e. their electric field vectors point along the axis) and

amplitude .

The two waves can be written as

Fig.10.1.3: Resultant of two waves ( & ) having different frequency ( ) and

wavelength.

The phase difference between these waves will vary in time as well as in space. [Fig.10.1.3

The resultant of two waves is given by

]

Using trigonometric relations

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Thus we see that the resultant wave propagates with an average wave vector however

the amplitude of such wave is modulated to form groups. The wave form of such individual

waves and resultant wave is plotted in figure at t=0;

The individual waves, having the average of two k's correspond to the first cosine term in

equation and their phase velocity(wave velocity) is given by

ie. The velocity is nearly the same as that of component waves. The envelope of modulation

(wave packet) is given by the second cosine term. The wave vector for this is the difference of

wave vector of two waves and is small, which corresponds to a larger wavelength. The velocity

of the wave packet (group velocity) is given by

The wave velocity and group velocity are related as

where is the actual wavelength in the medium. For light waves traveling in vacuum there is no

dispersion. (All waves move with same velocity), the wave and groups velocity is same.

Intensity distribution:

We have seen in the earlier sections, that whenever two waves superimpose the resultant wave's

amplitude gets modified. If the two superimposing waves are of same frequency and wave

vector, then the amplitude (thus intensity) at any time and position depends upon the phase

difference between the two propagating waves. As these waves are traveling waves, at a given

time t, the phase of the waves vary with the position in space. Now if we consider the

superposition of these waves at different points in space (at time t), the intensity will depend

upon the relative phase difference between the two waves, at these points, where the phase

difference between the waves in even multiple of , the intensity will be maximum and more

than the sum of intensity of individual waves ; whereas at points where

the phase difference is odd multiple of , the intensity will be minimum and is less than the sum

of intensity of individual waves .

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At all other points, intensity will be between this maximum and minimum intensity depending

upon the phase difference. Fig .shows the variation of intensity with phase difference

between the two waves. This spatial variation of intensity gives the interference pattern on

screen.

If the two superimposing waves are of equal amplitude then the intensity of resultant wave will

vary between as the phase difference changes from . The average intensity in

space however remains the same as . Thus the superposition of waves results in

redistribution of energy.

Fringe visibility: In the interference pattern, the intensity of the superimposed waves is

redistributed in space between I

max

and I

min

. The points in space, where the intensity is more,

will appear brighter than the point where the intensity is less. If the intensities I

max

and I

min

are

very different, we can clearly see the interference fringes on screen.

The visibility of fringes is defined as the contrast between the dark and bright region,

When the two waves are of equal amplitude (intensity) the visibility is maximum.

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Conditions for Interference

It is not always necessary that two superimposing light waves always interfere and result in

redistribution of energy (fringes). Only when these superimposing waves satisfy certain

conditions the fringe pattern is observed on screen. These conditions are as follows.

1. The phase difference between the two waves should not change with time. If the phase

difference between the waves, changes with time, the intensity at a given point will be a

function of time and fringe pattern will not be clean. The phase difference between the

waves can be maintained if the sources of these two light waves are coherent this could

be achieved if the waves are derived from one single source.

2. The two waves must have same state of polarization i.e. their electric field vectors must

point in the same direction. For, if the electric field vectors of two waves point in

orthogonal direction term in eq. will be zero and the resultant intensity will not

depend upon the phase difference . Further if the electric field vectors of these waves

are not completely orthogonal, the components which are parallel (anti parallel) to each

other will interfere. However, in this case the difference between maximum and

minimum intensity will not be as large as in the case when two waves are in the same

state of polarization (fringe visibility will be poor).

3. The two interfering waves should have same wavelength. If the wavelengths are very

different, the interference cannot take place. In the case when there is slight variation in

wavelength, the resultant wave (intensity) behaves like a group of waves and result in

beat formation.

Coherent and Non coherent Sources:

A light source emits photons, when the atoms undergo transition from one state to another. This

process is highly chaotic, as the photons emission process from a collection of atoms is

independent of each other. The light wave coming from the source, is therefore, superposition of

many waves with random phases, and resembles a sinusoidal wave for about 10ns or so (the

typical time interval in an emission process). Since the phase of the resultant wave from the

source is not constant with time, such a source is called a non coherent source. Now if the two

super imposing waves are coming from different sources, their phases will change randomly and

their phase difference will not be constant with time and the waves will not interfere.

If the phase difference between two waves, coming from different sources is not a function of

time, these sources are said to be coherent sources. Such sources are obtained by dividing from a

single light source, since in this case both the sources (waves) will have the same phase at the

point of division. A constant phase difference between them can be introduced by introducing

some, path difference. The waves derived from single source thus have constant phase difference

and interfere.

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Classification of Interference Phenomenon:

In order to observe interference phenomenon, the two super imposing waves must be originating

from the same source, so that the phase difference between them remains constant with time.

These waves can be derived by single source using number of methods. Depending on the

process by which the waves are derived, these can be classified as follows : i) division of wave

front ii) division of amplitude.

Division of wave front: when the two super imposing waves are derived from the two regions of

parent waves, the process is known as division of wave front. Since the phase on the wave front

is constant, the waves from two regions of waves will bear a constant phase difference at any

point of observations.

An earliest method to obtain two coherent waves (source) by division of wave front of parent

wave is young's double slit method and is described below.

Fig.10.2.1: Derivation of two coherent waves by method division of wave front (Young's

double slit experiment)

In this method, light from broad source is made to fall on a small aperture slot S. Since the

aperture is small it acts as a source of cylindrical wave. Now at all points of the wave front, the

phase of the wave remains the same. When the light (wave front) falls on Symmetrically placed

slits S

1

& S

2

, these select two different regions of the wave front and light emerging out of these

slits have no phase difference. The slits S

1

and S

2

thus behave as coherent sources. When waves

from these sources S

1

& S

2

travel forward and fall on a screen, at any point on screen additional

phase difference may arise between two waves depending on the path these waves travel.

However resultant phase difference at any point doesn't change with time. The intensity at the

point of superposition is decided by the relative phase difference between the two waves.

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For a point P(x, y, z) on the screen, the two waves (from S

1

and S

2

) travel distances r

1

and r

2

respectively. The path difference is given by

Where

d is the separation between slits S

1

and S

2

.

If the screen is placed at a distance D from the center of double slits (z=0) and D>>d, we have

------------------------------------------(10.2.16b)

Thus the phase difference between the two waves at the screen will be

-----------------------------------------(10.2.17 )

The waves will interfere constructively (bright fringe) or destructively (dark fringe) depending

on whether is an even or odd multiple of . The m

th

order bright fringe will be at points on

the screen where

-------------------------------------------(10.2.18)

m=0,1,2,3----------

The central fringe (y=0) is always bright.

The fringes are equidistant and parallel to x axis. The fringe width is given by

-----------------------------------------(10.2.19)

The intensity distribution on screen for these superimposing waves is given by

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Assuming that the two light waves are of equal intensity I

0

------------------------------ (10.2.20)

Fig.10.2.2: Resultant intensity distribution as a function of phase difference for two

intensity waves of same amplitude.

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Division of Amplitude: When a light wave (AO) falls on a thin film of material having a

different refractive index, it is partially reflected back (OB) and partially transmitted (OC) to the

medium(Fig.10.3.1

The path difference between the two waves is

). The transmitted wave OC suffers a partial reflection (CD) on the other

interface of thin film and another medium. The wave CD after another partial transmission (DE)

on the first interface comes out to first medium and is parallel to OE. The two light rays OB and

DE are therefore derived from the same parent wave and thus bear a constant phase difference

(arising due to different optical paths traveled by wave OB and wave OCDE) and are therefore

coherent. However in this process, the energy of incident wave is distributed between different

reflected and transmitted components. This process of obtaining two coherent waves is called

Method of division of amplitude. Depending upon the phase difference between the two waves

these may interfere constructively (bright fringe) or destructively (dark fringe)

----------------------------------------(10.3.21a)

If first medium is air (n=1) and the angle of refraction is

-----------------------------------------------------(10.3.21b)

The ray OB undergoes a phase change of due to reflection at the upper surface. Thus the total

phase difference between the two waves (OB and DE) is given by

Fig.10.3.1: Generation of two coherent waves by division of amplitude.

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----------------------------------------(10.3.22)

For constructive interference, this phase difference should be even multiple of , ie. bright

fringe will be there if

----------------------------------------(10.3.23)

Similarly destructive interference will take place when

------------------------------------ (10.3.24)

Classification of fringes:

From equation (10.3.23) & (10.3.24) we see that for superposition of two waves derived by

division of amplitude, the intensity can be varied by varying the thickness of the film; varying

angle of refraction (or angle of incidence ) or the wavelength of the light rays. In each of

these cases, fringes of different types are obtained on screen, which can be classified into three

types.

1. Fringes of constant thickness

2. Fringes of constant inclination (FOCI)

3. Fringes of equal chromatic order (FECO)

In the following section, we shall be discussing these cases.

Fringes of constant inclination:

Consider again the case of interference by division of amplitude. Let the incident light be coming

from a broad source. Light from such a source will fall on thin film at all angles of incidence and

on a broad range in space (different position). (Fig.10.3.2) represents the two sets of such rays

falling at different angle of incidence. Correspondingly, for these rays angle of refraction will

also be different. The interference phenomenon for these waves can be seen by focusing these

parallel rays on a screen using a Lens. Now rays of equal angle of incidence (refraction) will

come to focus on one point (say P

1

) whereas the rays with different angle of incidence will be

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focused at P

2

. In other words each point is locus of all rays having same angle of incidence. The

rays arriving at P

1

(also at P

2

) will interfere and the resultant intensity will be governed by Eqn.

(10.3.23) & (10.3.24). Since in this case, the thickness of the film and the wavelength of light is

same for the rays reaching at P

1

& P

2

and the intensity variation at P

1

& P

2

is due to variation in

angle of incidence (refraction), these fringes are termed as fringes of constant inclination (FOCI).

Fig.10.3.2: Fringes of constant inclination, the rays of different colour represent rays falling

at different angle of incidence

Fringes of constant thickness : Let us now consider the case, when the thickness of the film

is not constant but is varying continuously (Fig.10.3.3). If angle is small and parallel light rays

from monochromatic source are made to incidence on the surface nearly normally, the two

reflected rays (from upper and lower surface of the films) will have a path difference given by

Eqn.(10.3.21b)

Where t is the thickness of the film at that particular point and for small

------------------------- (10.3.25)

Since we are considering near normal incidence, and condition for interference

maximum Eqn.(10.3.23) becomes

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----------------------------(10.3.26a)

-------------------------- (10.3.26b)

Fig.10.3.3: Fringes of constant thickness formed by wedge shaped film

Consequently, the maxima in interference pattern occur at positions x, given by Eqn.(10.3.26b).

The consecutive bright fringe (dark fringes) are separated by

The difference in film thickness between the consecutive maxima is given by

Since in this case, each fringe is the locus of all points in the film for

which optical thickness is same, fringes are termed as Fringe of constant thickness

Fringes of Equal chromatic Order (FECO)

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These types of fringes are formed using white light. In this case, a narrow white light is incident

on the film. The angle of incidence for all the light rays (different) is constant. Assuming that

refractive index doesn't vary appreciably with , the angle of refraction will be same for all

the wavelengths. The condition for maximum is again given by Eqn.(10.3.23) .

Fringes of Equal chromatic Order (FECO)

These types of fringes are formed using white light. In this case, a narrow white light is incident

on the film. The angle of incidence for all the light rays (different colours) is constant. Assuming

that refractive index doesn't vary appreciably with , the angle of refraction will be same.

The condition for maximum is again given by Eqn.(23) .

Since is same for all the wavelength of light the path difference (phase difference) depends

upon . All the rays for which is same will be brought to focus (this interface) at one point.

The fringes thus produced are called as fringe of equal chromatic order (FECO).

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