wave.optics Logo  Interference

Waves can be added together either constructively or destructively. The result of adding two waves of the same frequency depends on the value of the phase of the wave at the point in which the waves are added.
Electromagnetic waves are subject to interference. For two sources of electromagnetic waves to interfere

  • The sources must have the same frequency and polarization.
  • The sources must be coherent.
  • The superposition principle must apply.

Young's Double Slit Interference

In the double slit experiment, a single source is split in two, to generate two coherent sources.

When the light from the two sources is projected on a screen, an interference pattern is observed.

To explain the origin of the interference pattern, consider the distance traveled from the two sources. At the center of the screen the waves from the two sources are in phase. As we move away from the center, the path traveled by the light from one source is larger than that traveled by the light from the other source. When the difference in path is equal to half a wavelength, destructive interference occurs. Instead, when the difference in pathlength is equal to a wavelength, constructive interference occurs.

This Java applet demonstrates a classic example of interference effects in light waves. Two light rays pass through two slits, separated by a distance d and strike a screen a distance, L, from the slits. You can change this parameters (drag scrollbars to do it) and you see the result of interference on the screen.

Class files

Get Java

If you like this applet you might want to try a newer version. Visit Interference page.

Copyright © 1996, 1997 Sergey G. Vtorov

There are many properties of light that can only be understood in terms of a wave-like description. In this package we will examine these in some detail.

Online Physics Simulations. Fundamentals of Physics. This is a Java applet designed for science education. University education.