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A pair of images is shown that has four sections. In the first section, two sinusoidal waves are shown, one drawn above the other, and a section from the top of one curve to the top of the next curve is labeled “lambda.” The curves align with one another. The phrase below this reads “Constructive interference.” A right facing arrow leads from the first section to the second, which shows one larger sinusoidal curve that has higher and lower peaks and troughs. A section from the top of one curve to the top of the next curve is labeled “lambda” and the phrase below this reads “Maxima and minima reinforce.” In the second section, two sinusoidal waves are shown, one drawn above the other, and a section from the top of one curve to the top of the next curve is labeled “lambda.” The curves do not align with one another. The phrase below this reads “Destructive interference.” A right facing arrow leads from the first section to the second, which shows one flat line. The phrase below this reads “Maxima and minima cancel.”
Light waves occupying the same space experience interference, combining to yield waves of greater (a) or lesser (b) intensity, depending upon the separation of their maxima and minima.

When X-rays of a certain wavelength, λ , are scattered by atoms in adjacent crystal planes separated by a distance, d , they may undergo constructive interference when the difference between the distances traveled by the two waves prior to their combination is an integer factor, n , of the wavelength. This condition is satisfied when the angle of the diffracted beam, θ , is related to the wavelength and interatomic distance by the equation:

n λ = 2 d sin θ

This relation is known as the Bragg equation    in honor of W. H. Bragg , the English physicist who first explained this phenomenon. [link] illustrates two examples of diffracted waves from the same two crystal planes. The figure on the left depicts waves diffracted at the Bragg angle, resulting in constructive interference, while that on the right shows diffraction and a different angle that does not satisfy the Bragg condition, resulting in destructive interference.

Two similar figures are shown. The first figure, labeled “Constructive Interference,” shows two horizontal rows of seven black dots with a line passing through them. The fourth dots of each row have a vertical line connecting them. The distance between these rows is labeled “d.” A beam labeled “Incident beam” descends at an angle labeled “theta” until it hits the line connecting the fourth dots, after which a diffracted beam ascends at the same angle “theta.” A dotted line is drawn across the diffracted beam. The second figure, labeled “Destructive interference,” is very similar, except that the angles “theta” are far more acute, making the slopes of the beams more shallow.
The diffraction of X-rays scattered by the atoms within a crystal permits the determination of the distance between the atoms. The top image depicts constructive interference between two scattered waves and a resultant diffracted wave of high intensity. The bottom image depicts destructive interference and a low intensity diffracted wave.

An X-ray diffractometer, such as the one illustrated in [link] , may be used to measure the angles at which X-rays are diffracted when interacting with a crystal as described earlier. From such measurements, the Bragg equation may be used to compute distances between atoms as demonstrated in the following example exercise.

A diagram, labeled “a” shows a cube on the left with a channel bored into its right side labeled “X dash ray source.” A beam is leaving from this channel and traveling in a horizontal line toward an oval-shaped, short tube, labeled “Collimator to focus beam” and “X dash ray diffraction,” where it passes through a cube labeled “Crystalline material” and scatters onto a vertical sheet labeled “Imaging surface.” A second diagram, labeled “b,” shows a square sheet with a large dot in the center labeled “X dash ray beam,” that is surrounded by smaller dots arranged in rings and labeled “Diffracted X dash rays.”
(a) In a diffractometer, a beam of X-rays strikes a crystalline material, producing (b) an X-ray diffraction pattern that can be analyzed to determine the crystal structure.

Using the bragg equation

In a diffractometer, X-rays with a wavelength of 0.1315 nm were used to produce a diffraction pattern for copper. The first order diffraction ( n = 1) occurred at an angle θ = 25.25°. Determine the spacing between the diffracting planes in copper.


The distance between the planes is found by solving the Bragg equation, = 2 d sin θ , for d .

This gives: d = n λ 2 sin θ = 1 ( 0.1315 nm ) 2 sin ( 25.25 ° ) = 0.154 nm

Check your learning

A crystal with spacing between planes equal to 0.394 nm diffracts X-rays with a wavelength of 0.147 nm. What is the angle for the first order diffraction?



Got questions? Get instant answers now!

X-ray crystallographer rosalind franklin

The discovery of the structure of DNA in 1953 by Francis Crick and James Watson is one of the great achievements in the history of science. They were awarded the 1962 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, along with Maurice Wilkins , who provided experimental proof of DNA’s structure. British chemist Rosalind Franklin made invaluable contributions to this monumental achievement through her work in measuring X-ray diffraction images of DNA. Early in her career, Franklin’s research on the structure of coals proved helpful to the British war effort. After shifting her focus to biological systems in the early 1950s, Franklin and doctoral student Raymond Gosling discovered that DNA consists of two forms: a long, thin fiber formed when wet (type “B”) and a short, wide fiber formed when dried (type “A”). Her X-ray diffraction images of DNA ( [link] ) provided the crucial information that allowed Watson and Crick to confirm that DNA forms a double helix, and to determine details of its size and structure. Franklin also conducted pioneering research on viruses and the RNA that contains their genetic information, uncovering new information that radically changed the body of knowledge in the field. After developing ovarian cancer, Franklin continued to work until her death in 1958 at age 37. Among many posthumous recognitions of her work, the Chicago Medical School of Finch University of Health Sciences changed its name to the Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science in 2004, and adopted an image of her famous X-ray diffraction image of DNA as its official university logo.

An image shows a circular illustration with rings of dots that are blurred together.
This illustration shows an X-ray diffraction image similar to the one Franklin found in her research. (credit: National Institutes of Health)

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