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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

How does unpolarized light have electric vector randomly oriented in all directions.
Tanishq Reply
unpolarized light refers to a wave collection which has an equal distribution of electric field orientations for all directions
In a grating, the angle of diffraction for second order maximum is 30°.When light of wavelength 5*10^-10cm is used. Calculate the number of lines per cm of the grating.
Micheal Reply
state the law of gravity 6
cletus Reply
what is cathodic protection
Ebe Reply
its just a technique used for the protection of a metal from corrosion by making it cathode of an electrochemical cell.
what is interferometer
Sonu Reply
Show that n1Sino1=n2Sino2
javan Reply
what's propagation
Vikas Reply
is it in context of waves?
It is the manner of motion of the energy whether mechanical(requiring elastic medium)or electromagnetic(non interference with medium)
determine displacement cat any time t for a body of mass 2kg under a time varrying force ft=bt³+csinkt
Felix Reply
A round diaphragm S with diameter of d = 0.05 is used as light source in Michelson interferometer shown on the picture. The diaphragm is illuminated by parallel beam of monochromatic light with wavelength of λ = 0.6 μm. The distances are A B = 30, A C = 10 . The interference picture is in the form of concentric circles and is observed on the screen placed in the focal plane of the lens. Estimate the number of interference rings m observed near the main diffractive maximum.
Jyoti Reply
A Pb wire wound in a tight solenoid of diameter of 4.0 mm is cooled to a temperature of 5.0 K. The wire is connected in series with a 50-Ωresistor and a variable source of emf. As the emf is increased, what value does it have when the superconductivity of the wire is destroyed?
Rupal Reply
how does colour appear in thin films
Nwjwr Reply
yaaa ☺
in the wave equation y=Asin(kx-wt+¢) what does k and w stand for.
Kimani Reply
derivation of lateral shieft
James Reply
total binding energy of ionic crystal at equilibrium is
All Reply
How does, ray of light coming form focus, behaves in concave mirror after refraction?
Bishesh Reply
Refraction does not occur in concave mirror. If refraction occurs then I don't know about this.
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