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UPH004 – Applied Physics

Interference: Parallel and wedge-shape thin films, Newton rings,
Applications as Non-reflecting coatings, Measurement of wavelength
and refractive index.
Contents in this topic
• Introduction
• Parallel and wedge-shape thin films
• Newton rings
• Applications as Non-reflecting coatings
• Measurement of wavelength and refractive index.
• Introduction
• Single and Double slit diffraction
• Diffraction grating
• Applications - Dispersive and Resolving Powers.
• Introduction
• Production, detection
• Applications – Anti-glare automobile headlights,
Adjustable tint windows.
Introduction: Interference

Interference is only noticeable if the light sources are

Monochromatic: all the light has the same wavelength

Coherent : different sources maintain the same phase relationship over

space and time.

If this is true, interference will be constructive where the two waves are
in phase, and destructive where they are out of phase.
Superposition and Interference
If two waves occupy the same space, their amplitudes add
at each point. They may interfere either constructively or
Interference of waves - water waves
Interference of waves - Sound waves

Consider case for sound waves, emitted by 2 loudspeakers:

Path difference =nλ

Constructive Interference

Path difference =(n+1/2)λ

Destructive Interference

(n = any integer, m = odd integer)

Interference of waves - light

Constructive d sin   n

 1
Destructive d sin    n  
 2
Stoke's law
According to this principle, in the absence of any absorption,
a light ray that is reflected or refracted will retrace its original path
if its direction is reversed.
According to the principle of optical reversibility, the two rays of amplitudes
ar12 and at1t2 must combine to give the incident ray.

ar12 + at1t2 = a Or t1t2 = 1-r12

ar1t1+ at1r2=0 Or r1= - r2

Interference in Reflected Waves

• There is no phase change when light reflects from a region with a lower
index of refraction.
• There is a half-wavelength phase change when light reflects from a region
with a higher index of refraction, or from a solid surface.
• There is also no phase change in the refracted wave.
Thin Film Interference
Thin films are responsible for colours of soap bubbles, oil sticks, iridescence
of peacock feathers, blooming of camera lenses … .
When light impinges on the first surface of a transparent film, a
portion of the incident wave is partially reflected and partially
transmitted. The transmitted portion is then reflected from a second
surface and emerges back out of the film. Thus, emerging from the
thin film are two waves; 

(1) wave reflected from front surface and

(2) wave reflected from rear surface
Film t

The two waves have different path optical lengths that is determined
by the width of the film. The two waves will eventually interfere and
the interference pattern observed will depend upon the thickness of
the film. (This is also called division of amplitude interference)
Do the reflected rays  and  interfere destructively or constructively?
Interference in parallel film due to reflected light:

Optical path diff.

    AC  CD   AB
B 2
2 d
  AB
air i cos(r )
film d r  AB  AD sin i 
  2 AE sin i 
C  
  2d tan r. sin i 
 
BD is normal to AB   2d tan r. sin r 

Hence, Path diff   2d 1 / cos r  tan r. sin r 

 2d cos r
Interference in parallel film due to reflected light:

B 2

air i
film d r
There is phase change of 180 or λ/2 for ray 1 whereas no phase change for
ray 2. Therefore,
The condition for maxima will be given by:
2d . cos r   / 2  n
2d . cos r  (2n  1) / 2 where n=1,2,3,.........

Condition for minima will be given by :

2d . cos r   / 2  (2n  1) / 2
2d . cos r  n where n=0,1,2,3,..............
Interference in parallel film due to transmitted light:

Optical path diff. = µ(CD+DE)-CP

CQ is normal to DE and EP is normal to CT.

ED is extended backward and it intersects
extended CF at I.
Interference in parallel film due to transmitted light:

 ABZ =  XCT
(YZ || IX and AB || CT)
 PCE = 90-i,
so  CEP = i
K  CDE = 2r,
J so  DCQ = 90-2r,
Y Hence  QCE=r

 QDJ =  CID=r

CQ is normal to DE and EP is normal to CT.

DE is extended backward and it intersects
extended CF at I.
Interference in parallel film due to transmitted light:
The condition for maxima will be given by:
2µd cos(r) = nλ where n=1,2,3,.........

Condition for minima will be given by :

2µd cos(r) = (2n+1)λ/2 where n=0,1,2,3,......

Conditions of maxima and minima in transmitted light

are just reverse of conditions for reflected light.
What if monochromatic source is replaced by white light?

 Path difference is function of μ which in turn depends on wavelength

of incident light.

 Depending on region of film and viewing position, condition for

maxima is satisfied for some wavelengths giving bright fringes.

 Wavelength for which minima condition is satisfied would be absent

in pattern.

 That is why colors change when we change our viewing angle.

Interference in Wedge shaped film :

Surface GH and G1H1 inclined at an angle α enclose wedge

shaped film.
Interference in Wedge shaped film

0 Y

 QB  G1H1 and CQ  GH, Hence  G1OG =  BQC

  BCQ = 180-(r+α), so  BZY = (r+α).
 YQ||DP, so  BCY =  CPD=(r+α)
  BCY = YCD =  CDP =(r+α)
  ABX =  XBF, so  FBD = 90-i

0 Y

Optical path diff. = μ(BC+CD)-BF =μ(BE+EC+CD)-BF

𝑠𝑖𝑛 𝑖 = ; 𝑠𝑖𝑛 𝑟 =
𝑠𝑖𝑛 𝑖 𝐵𝐹
𝜇= ;𝜇 =
𝑠𝑖𝑛 𝑟 𝐵𝐸
𝐵𝐹 = 𝜇. 𝐵𝐸

0 Y

So, optical path diff. = μ(BE+EC+CD)-BF

= μ(BE+EC+CD)-μ.BE
= μ(EC+CD)
= μ(EC+CP) = μ.EP
=2μd cos(r+α) o
Due to reflection from denser medium a phase difference of 180 or
λ/2 is introduced.
Interference in Wedge shaped film :

For constructive interference or maxima :

2μd cos(r+α)+λ/2 = nλ where n=1,2,3.......

2μd cos(r+α) = (2n-1)λ/2

For destructive interference or minima :

2μd cos(r+α)+λ/2 = (2n+1)λ/2 where n=0,1,2,3.......

2μd cos(r+α) = nλ
Spacing between two consecutive bright bands

Nth maximum will be given by :

2μd cos(r+α) = (2n-1)λ/2

If this maxima is obtained at distance Xn from edge.

For normal incidence, r = 0 and assuming μ = 1,
d = Xn tan(α)
So, 2 Xn tan(α) cos(α) = (2n-1)λ/2
2 Xn sin(α) = (2n-1)λ/2
(n+1)th maxima, 2 Xn+1sin(α) = (2n+1)λ/2
2 (Xn+1 - Xn)sin(α) = λ
or fringe spacing (Xn+1 - Xn) = λ/(2.sin(α)) = λ/(2.α) [Where α is small]
Newton's rings

A plano-convex lens is placed on plane glass sheet, an air film

of increasing thickness is formed.

Interference occurs between ray 1 and 2 and circular fringes

are formed.

Ray 2 undergoes phase change of 180 when reflected from air

to glass.
Experimental Setup:

Newton's rings

Optical path diff. =2μd cos(r+α)+λ/2

For air film μ=1, for convex lens of large radius of curvature, α is very
small and can be neglected. So,

Optical path diff. =2d cos(r)+λ/2

For normal incidence r = 0,

Optical path diff. = 2d +λ/2
Newton's rings

For bright fringe or maxima :

2d +λ/2 = nλ or 2d = (2n-1)λ/2 where n=1,2,3….

Condition for dark fringe:

2d +λ/2 = (2n+1)λ/2 or 2d = nλ where n=0,1,2,3..

Newton's rings will be observed for transmitted light as

well with opposite conditions for minima and maxima.
Diameter of Fringes :

From property of circle :

NP × NQ = NO × ND

i.e. r × r = d(2R-d) =2Rd-d2

d <<R, r2 ≈ 2Rd

d = r2 /2R

For bright fringe:

2d = (2n-1)λ/2

If D is diameter of the fringe ( r =D/2) then

Diameter of Fringes :

Similarly for dark fringe: 2d = nλ

or 2(r2 /2R) = nλ

 n
D  2 nR

Diameters of Newton's rings are proportional to square root of

natural numbers.
Measurement of wavelength:

If Dn and Dn+p gives diameter of nth and (n+p)th dark fringes in

Newton’s ring experiment, respectively, then

D 2
n p D 2

 n

4 Rp

Therefore, λ can be calculated using this formula.

Measurement of refractive index:
First Dn and Dn+p (diameter of nth and (n+p)th dark fringe
respectively) is measured with air film in between:
Dn2 p  Dn2
4 Rp
Without disturbing arrangement, liquid is poured in the
container. Again, dn and dn+p is measured
d n2 p  d n2
4 Rp
Diameter of rings reduces in liquid.
Using above equations :
Dn2 p  Dn2
 2
d n  p  d n2
Why the center of Newton’s rings appears dark in reflected light?

The effective path difference between the reflected rays =


At the centre d=0 and for a very small angle of wedge cos(r+α)
=1.Therefore effective path difference at λ/2.

This is the condition of minimum intensity. Hence central spot

of the ring system appears dark.
Why an excessively thin parallel film appears black?

In Thin parallel film, path diff. for reflected light:

2μdcos(r) + λ/2

For very thin film 2μdcos(r) << λ/2, so path diff. = λ/2

This is the condition of minimum intensity for all wavelengths.

Therefore all wavelengths will be absent in reflected system,
hence film will appear dark.
Visibility (V) or contrast:

I max  I min
Visibility (V) 
I max  I min

Where Imax represents the measured maximum intensity

and Imin is the corresponding minimum intensity.
V will always lie between 0 and 1.
Non-reflecting/Anti-reflecting Coatings:
Non-reflective coatings admit more light into cameras and
other optical instruments.
Non-reflecting/Anti-reflecting Coatings:
Applications: Camera lenses, binoculars, telescope lenses, solar
cell panel etc.
It can be designed by employing following conditions:
1. Wave 1 and wave 2 be same intensity
2. Wave 1 and wave 2 be out of phase.

Let's consider a wavelength λ in air

and so a wavelength λ glass in the
glass. Now suppose that thickness of
the layer is t = λ coating/4 = λ/4n. So
the second reflected ray has
travelled λ coating/2 further, so that the
phase difference, entirely due to the
path difference, is π.
Non-reflecting/Anti-reflecting Coatings:

For this wavelength, we have destructive interference: very

little power is reflected from the coating, and most is
transmitted into the lens: more light is available for the optical
instrument, and less is wasted in reflection.
For optical instruments, one would usually choose λ to be in
the middle of the visible spectrum (green light at around 550
nm). So, on the axis and with normal incidence, there is
maximum destructive interference for green, but still
considerable destructive interference for the rest of the visible

Examples: Coating of Magnesium fluoride (MgF2), = 1.38

Highly reflecting films/coatings:

Such coating find applications for increasing reflectivity of

light reflectors as well as mirrors used in resonant cavities of
lasers, luminaries, etc.

It can be designed by employing following conditions:

1. Wave 1 and wave 2 be of large and equal amplitudes
2. Wave 1 and wave 2 be in the same phase.

Examples: Coating of Titanium dioxide (TiO2) of = 2.45

Old questions format
Q. (a) Describe the formation of fringes in Newton's rings experiment. Also derive
expressions for the diameter of the dark and bright rings in this experiment. [8]

1(a) Derive the conditions of maxima and minima in interference pattern of parallel
thin film due to reflected light. What happens to these conditions for transmitted

(b) Light of wavelength 6000 A falls normally on a thin wedge shaped film, of
refractive index 1.4 forming fringes that are 2 mm apart. Find the angle of wedge?

c) Outline the conditions for non-reflecting and highly reflecting thin films.

2. (a) A parallel beam of sodium light (wavelength = 589 nm) strikes on oil film
(refractive index = 1.40) floating on the surface of water (refractive index = 1.33).
When viewed at an angle of 30° from normal, the sixth dark fringe is seen in the
reflected light. Find thickness of the oil film.

3. (a) Show that the separation between two successive Newton rings decreases
with increase in order.

(b) Justify the statement "A given non reflecting film is not perfect for all colors"