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By the end of this section, you will be able to:
  • Describe the phase changes that occur upon reflection
  • Describe fringes established by reflected rays of a common source
  • Explain the appearance of colors in thin films

The bright colors seen in an oil slick floating on water or in a sunlit soap bubble are caused by interference. The brightest colors are those that interfere constructively. This interference is between light reflected from different surfaces of a thin film; thus, the effect is known as thin-film interference    .

As we noted before, interference effects are most prominent when light interacts with something having a size similar to its wavelength. A thin film is one having a thickness t smaller than a few times the wavelength of light, λ . Since color is associated indirectly with λ and because all interference depends in some way on the ratio of λ to the size of the object involved, we should expect to see different colors for different thicknesses of a film, as in [link] .

A picture of soap bubbles is shown.
These soap bubbles exhibit brilliant colors when exposed to sunlight. (credit: Scott Robinson)

What causes thin-film interference? [link] shows how light reflected from the top and bottom surfaces of a film can interfere. Incident light is only partially reflected from the top surface of the film (ray 1). The remainder enters the film and is itself partially reflected from the bottom surface. Part of the light reflected from the bottom surface can emerge from the top of the film (ray 2) and interfere with light reflected from the top (ray 1). The ray that enters the film travels a greater distance, so it may be in or out of phase with the ray reflected from the top. However, consider for a moment, again, the bubbles in [link] . The bubbles are darkest where they are thinnest. Furthermore, if you observe a soap bubble carefully, you will note it gets dark at the point where it breaks. For very thin films, the difference in path lengths of rays 1 and 2 in [link] is negligible, so why should they interfere destructively and not constructively? The answer is that a phase change can occur upon reflection, as discussed next.

Picture is a schematic drawing of the light undergoing interference by a thin film with the thickness t. Light striking a thin film is partially reflected (ray 1) and partially refracted at the top surface. The refracted ray is partially reflected at the bottom surface and emerges as ray 2.
Light striking a thin film is partially reflected (ray 1) and partially refracted at the top surface. The refracted ray is partially reflected at the bottom surface and emerges as ray 2. These rays interfere in a way that depends on the thickness of the film and the indices of refraction of the various media.

Changes in phase due to reflection

We saw earlier ( Waves ) that reflection of mechanical waves can involve a 180 ° phase change. For example, a traveling wave on a string is inverted (i.e., a 180 ° phase change) upon reflection at a boundary to which a heavier string is tied. However, if the second string is lighter (or more precisely, of a lower linear density), no inversion occurs. Light waves produce the same effect, but the deciding parameter for light is the index of refraction. Light waves undergo a 180 ° or π radians phase change upon reflection at an interface beyond which is a medium of higher index of refraction. No phase change takes place when reflecting from a medium of lower refractive index ( [link] ). Because of the periodic nature of waves, this phase change or inversion is equivalent to ± λ / 2 in distance travelled, or path length. Both the path length and refractive indices are important factors in thin-film interference.

Questions & Answers

plot a graph of MP against tan ( Angle/2) and determine the slope of the graph and find the error in it.
Ime Reply
expression for photon as wave
BARISUA Reply
Are beta particle and eletron are same?
Amalesh Reply
yes
mari
how can you confirm?
Amalesh
sry
Saiaung
If they are same then why they named differently?
Amalesh
because beta particles give the information that the electron is ejected from the nucleus with very high energy
Absar
what is meant by Z in nuclear physic
Shubhu Reply
atomic n.o
Gyanendra
no of atoms present in nucleus
Sanjana
Note on spherical mirrors
Shamanth Reply
what is Draic equation? with explanation
M.D Reply
what is CHEMISTRY
trpathy Reply
it's a subject
Akhter
it's a branch in science which deals with the properties,uses and composition of matter
Eniabire
what is a Higgs Boson please?
FRANKLINE Reply
god particles is know as higgs boson, when two proton are reacted than a particles came out which is used to make a bond between than materials
M.D
bro little abit getting confuse if i am wrong than please clarify me
M.D
the law of refraction of direct current lines at the boundary between two conducting media of
BATTULA Reply
what is the black body of an ideal radiator
Areej Reply
uncertainty principles is applicable to
Areej
fermions
FRANKLINE
what is the cause of the expanding universe?
FRANKLINE
microscopic particles or gases
Areej
Astronomers theorize that the faster expansion rate is due to a mysterious, dark force that is pulling galaxies apart. One explanation for dark energy is that it is a property of space.
Areej
Thanks for your contribution Areej.
FRANKLINE
no problem
Areej
what is photoelectric equation
HIMANSHU Reply
How does fringe intensity depend upon slit width in single slit diffraction?
Abhishek Reply
intensity seems to be directly proportional radius of slit
Mathieu
what are the applications of Bernoulli's equation
Shaukat
VOLTE
Md Reply
what is Draic equation
M.D
about nuclear angular momentum
rahul Reply
what is spin
MUKESH Reply
Practice Key Terms 2

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Source:  OpenStax, University physics volume 3. OpenStax CNX. Nov 04, 2016 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col12067/1.4
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