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College Physics for AP® Courses

27.7 Thin Film Interference

College Physics for AP® Courses27.7 Thin Film Interference
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  1. Preface
  2. 1 Introduction: The Nature of Science and Physics
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 1.1 Physics: An Introduction
    3. 1.2 Physical Quantities and Units
    4. 1.3 Accuracy, Precision, and Significant Figures
    5. 1.4 Approximation
    6. Glossary
    7. Section Summary
    8. Conceptual Questions
    9. Problems & Exercises
  3. 2 Kinematics
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 2.1 Displacement
    3. 2.2 Vectors, Scalars, and Coordinate Systems
    4. 2.3 Time, Velocity, and Speed
    5. 2.4 Acceleration
    6. 2.5 Motion Equations for Constant Acceleration in One Dimension
    7. 2.6 Problem-Solving Basics for One Dimensional Kinematics
    8. 2.7 Falling Objects
    9. 2.8 Graphical Analysis of One Dimensional Motion
    10. Glossary
    11. Section Summary
    12. Conceptual Questions
    13. Problems & Exercises
    14. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  4. 3 Two-Dimensional Kinematics
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 3.1 Kinematics in Two Dimensions: An Introduction
    3. 3.2 Vector Addition and Subtraction: Graphical Methods
    4. 3.3 Vector Addition and Subtraction: Analytical Methods
    5. 3.4 Projectile Motion
    6. 3.5 Addition of Velocities
    7. Glossary
    8. Section Summary
    9. Conceptual Questions
    10. Problems & Exercises
    11. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  5. 4 Dynamics: Force and Newton's Laws of Motion
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 4.1 Development of Force Concept
    3. 4.2 Newton's First Law of Motion: Inertia
    4. 4.3 Newton's Second Law of Motion: Concept of a System
    5. 4.4 Newton's Third Law of Motion: Symmetry in Forces
    6. 4.5 Normal, Tension, and Other Examples of Force
    7. 4.6 Problem-Solving Strategies
    8. 4.7 Further Applications of Newton's Laws of Motion
    9. 4.8 Extended Topic: The Four Basic Forces—An Introduction
    10. Glossary
    11. Section Summary
    12. Conceptual Questions
    13. Problems & Exercises
    14. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  6. 5 Further Applications of Newton's Laws: Friction, Drag, and Elasticity
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 5.1 Friction
    3. 5.2 Drag Forces
    4. 5.3 Elasticity: Stress and Strain
    5. Glossary
    6. Section Summary
    7. Conceptual Questions
    8. Problems & Exercises
    9. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  7. 6 Gravitation and Uniform Circular Motion
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 6.1 Rotation Angle and Angular Velocity
    3. 6.2 Centripetal Acceleration
    4. 6.3 Centripetal Force
    5. 6.4 Fictitious Forces and Non-inertial Frames: The Coriolis Force
    6. 6.5 Newton's Universal Law of Gravitation
    7. 6.6 Satellites and Kepler's Laws: An Argument for Simplicity
    8. Glossary
    9. Section Summary
    10. Conceptual Questions
    11. Problems & Exercises
    12. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  8. 7 Work, Energy, and Energy Resources
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 7.1 Work: The Scientific Definition
    3. 7.2 Kinetic Energy and the Work-Energy Theorem
    4. 7.3 Gravitational Potential Energy
    5. 7.4 Conservative Forces and Potential Energy
    6. 7.5 Nonconservative Forces
    7. 7.6 Conservation of Energy
    8. 7.7 Power
    9. 7.8 Work, Energy, and Power in Humans
    10. 7.9 World Energy Use
    11. Glossary
    12. Section Summary
    13. Conceptual Questions
    14. Problems & Exercises
    15. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  9. 8 Linear Momentum and Collisions
    1. Connection for AP® courses
    2. 8.1 Linear Momentum and Force
    3. 8.2 Impulse
    4. 8.3 Conservation of Momentum
    5. 8.4 Elastic Collisions in One Dimension
    6. 8.5 Inelastic Collisions in One Dimension
    7. 8.6 Collisions of Point Masses in Two Dimensions
    8. 8.7 Introduction to Rocket Propulsion
    9. Glossary
    10. Section Summary
    11. Conceptual Questions
    12. Problems & Exercises
    13. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  10. 9 Statics and Torque
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 9.1 The First Condition for Equilibrium
    3. 9.2 The Second Condition for Equilibrium
    4. 9.3 Stability
    5. 9.4 Applications of Statics, Including Problem-Solving Strategies
    6. 9.5 Simple Machines
    7. 9.6 Forces and Torques in Muscles and Joints
    8. Glossary
    9. Section Summary
    10. Conceptual Questions
    11. Problems & Exercises
    12. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  11. 10 Rotational Motion and Angular Momentum
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 10.1 Angular Acceleration
    3. 10.2 Kinematics of Rotational Motion
    4. 10.3 Dynamics of Rotational Motion: Rotational Inertia
    5. 10.4 Rotational Kinetic Energy: Work and Energy Revisited
    6. 10.5 Angular Momentum and Its Conservation
    7. 10.6 Collisions of Extended Bodies in Two Dimensions
    8. 10.7 Gyroscopic Effects: Vector Aspects of Angular Momentum
    9. Glossary
    10. Section Summary
    11. Conceptual Questions
    12. Problems & Exercises
    13. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  12. 11 Fluid Statics
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 11.1 What Is a Fluid?
    3. 11.2 Density
    4. 11.3 Pressure
    5. 11.4 Variation of Pressure with Depth in a Fluid
    6. 11.5 Pascal’s Principle
    7. 11.6 Gauge Pressure, Absolute Pressure, and Pressure Measurement
    8. 11.7 Archimedes’ Principle
    9. 11.8 Cohesion and Adhesion in Liquids: Surface Tension and Capillary Action
    10. 11.9 Pressures in the Body
    11. Glossary
    12. Section Summary
    13. Conceptual Questions
    14. Problems & Exercises
    15. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  13. 12 Fluid Dynamics and Its Biological and Medical Applications
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 12.1 Flow Rate and Its Relation to Velocity
    3. 12.2 Bernoulli’s Equation
    4. 12.3 The Most General Applications of Bernoulli’s Equation
    5. 12.4 Viscosity and Laminar Flow; Poiseuille’s Law
    6. 12.5 The Onset of Turbulence
    7. 12.6 Motion of an Object in a Viscous Fluid
    8. 12.7 Molecular Transport Phenomena: Diffusion, Osmosis, and Related Processes
    9. Glossary
    10. Section Summary
    11. Conceptual Questions
    12. Problems & Exercises
    13. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  14. 13 Temperature, Kinetic Theory, and the Gas Laws
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 13.1 Temperature
    3. 13.2 Thermal Expansion of Solids and Liquids
    4. 13.3 The Ideal Gas Law
    5. 13.4 Kinetic Theory: Atomic and Molecular Explanation of Pressure and Temperature
    6. 13.5 Phase Changes
    7. 13.6 Humidity, Evaporation, and Boiling
    8. Glossary
    9. Section Summary
    10. Conceptual Questions
    11. Problems & Exercises
    12. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  15. 14 Heat and Heat Transfer Methods
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 14.1 Heat
    3. 14.2 Temperature Change and Heat Capacity
    4. 14.3 Phase Change and Latent Heat
    5. 14.4 Heat Transfer Methods
    6. 14.5 Conduction
    7. 14.6 Convection
    8. 14.7 Radiation
    9. Glossary
    10. Section Summary
    11. Conceptual Questions
    12. Problems & Exercises
    13. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  16. 15 Thermodynamics
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 15.1 The First Law of Thermodynamics
    3. 15.2 The First Law of Thermodynamics and Some Simple Processes
    4. 15.3 Introduction to the Second Law of Thermodynamics: Heat Engines and Their Efficiency
    5. 15.4 Carnot’s Perfect Heat Engine: The Second Law of Thermodynamics Restated
    6. 15.5 Applications of Thermodynamics: Heat Pumps and Refrigerators
    7. 15.6 Entropy and the Second Law of Thermodynamics: Disorder and the Unavailability of Energy
    8. 15.7 Statistical Interpretation of Entropy and the Second Law of Thermodynamics: The Underlying Explanation
    9. Glossary
    10. Section Summary
    11. Conceptual Questions
    12. Problems & Exercises
    13. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  17. 16 Oscillatory Motion and Waves
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 16.1 Hooke’s Law: Stress and Strain Revisited
    3. 16.2 Period and Frequency in Oscillations
    4. 16.3 Simple Harmonic Motion: A Special Periodic Motion
    5. 16.4 The Simple Pendulum
    6. 16.5 Energy and the Simple Harmonic Oscillator
    7. 16.6 Uniform Circular Motion and Simple Harmonic Motion
    8. 16.7 Damped Harmonic Motion
    9. 16.8 Forced Oscillations and Resonance
    10. 16.9 Waves
    11. 16.10 Superposition and Interference
    12. 16.11 Energy in Waves: Intensity
    13. Glossary
    14. Section Summary
    15. Conceptual Questions
    16. Problems & Exercises
    17. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  18. 17 Physics of Hearing
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 17.1 Sound
    3. 17.2 Speed of Sound, Frequency, and Wavelength
    4. 17.3 Sound Intensity and Sound Level
    5. 17.4 Doppler Effect and Sonic Booms
    6. 17.5 Sound Interference and Resonance: Standing Waves in Air Columns
    7. 17.6 Hearing
    8. 17.7 Ultrasound
    9. Glossary
    10. Section Summary
    11. Conceptual Questions
    12. Problems & Exercises
    13. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  19. 18 Electric Charge and Electric Field
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 18.1 Static Electricity and Charge: Conservation of Charge
    3. 18.2 Conductors and Insulators
    4. 18.3 Conductors and Electric Fields in Static Equilibrium
    5. 18.4 Coulomb’s Law
    6. 18.5 Electric Field: Concept of a Field Revisited
    7. 18.6 Electric Field Lines: Multiple Charges
    8. 18.7 Electric Forces in Biology
    9. 18.8 Applications of Electrostatics
    10. Glossary
    11. Section Summary
    12. Conceptual Questions
    13. Problems & Exercises
    14. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  20. 19 Electric Potential and Electric Field
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 19.1 Electric Potential Energy: Potential Difference
    3. 19.2 Electric Potential in a Uniform Electric Field
    4. 19.3 Electrical Potential Due to a Point Charge
    5. 19.4 Equipotential Lines
    6. 19.5 Capacitors and Dielectrics
    7. 19.6 Capacitors in Series and Parallel
    8. 19.7 Energy Stored in Capacitors
    9. Glossary
    10. Section Summary
    11. Conceptual Questions
    12. Problems & Exercises
    13. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  21. 20 Electric Current, Resistance, and Ohm's Law
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 20.1 Current
    3. 20.2 Ohm’s Law: Resistance and Simple Circuits
    4. 20.3 Resistance and Resistivity
    5. 20.4 Electric Power and Energy
    6. 20.5 Alternating Current versus Direct Current
    7. 20.6 Electric Hazards and the Human Body
    8. 20.7 Nerve Conduction–Electrocardiograms
    9. Glossary
    10. Section Summary
    11. Conceptual Questions
    12. Problems & Exercises
    13. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  22. 21 Circuits, Bioelectricity, and DC Instruments
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 21.1 Resistors in Series and Parallel
    3. 21.2 Electromotive Force: Terminal Voltage
    4. 21.3 Kirchhoff’s Rules
    5. 21.4 DC Voltmeters and Ammeters
    6. 21.5 Null Measurements
    7. 21.6 DC Circuits Containing Resistors and Capacitors
    8. Glossary
    9. Section Summary
    10. Conceptual Questions
    11. Problems & Exercises
    12. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  23. 22 Magnetism
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 22.1 Magnets
    3. 22.2 Ferromagnets and Electromagnets
    4. 22.3 Magnetic Fields and Magnetic Field Lines
    5. 22.4 Magnetic Field Strength: Force on a Moving Charge in a Magnetic Field
    6. 22.5 Force on a Moving Charge in a Magnetic Field: Examples and Applications
    7. 22.6 The Hall Effect
    8. 22.7 Magnetic Force on a Current-Carrying Conductor
    9. 22.8 Torque on a Current Loop: Motors and Meters
    10. 22.9 Magnetic Fields Produced by Currents: Ampere’s Law
    11. 22.10 Magnetic Force between Two Parallel Conductors
    12. 22.11 More Applications of Magnetism
    13. Glossary
    14. Section Summary
    15. Conceptual Questions
    16. Problems & Exercises
    17. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  24. 23 Electromagnetic Induction, AC Circuits, and Electrical Technologies
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 23.1 Induced Emf and Magnetic Flux
    3. 23.2 Faraday’s Law of Induction: Lenz’s Law
    4. 23.3 Motional Emf
    5. 23.4 Eddy Currents and Magnetic Damping
    6. 23.5 Electric Generators
    7. 23.6 Back Emf
    8. 23.7 Transformers
    9. 23.8 Electrical Safety: Systems and Devices
    10. 23.9 Inductance
    11. 23.10 RL Circuits
    12. 23.11 Reactance, Inductive and Capacitive
    13. 23.12 RLC Series AC Circuits
    14. Glossary
    15. Section Summary
    16. Conceptual Questions
    17. Problems & Exercises
    18. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  25. 24 Electromagnetic Waves
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 24.1 Maxwell’s Equations: Electromagnetic Waves Predicted and Observed
    3. 24.2 Production of Electromagnetic Waves
    4. 24.3 The Electromagnetic Spectrum
    5. 24.4 Energy in Electromagnetic Waves
    6. Glossary
    7. Section Summary
    8. Conceptual Questions
    9. Problems & Exercises
    10. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  26. 25 Geometric Optics
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 25.1 The Ray Aspect of Light
    3. 25.2 The Law of Reflection
    4. 25.3 The Law of Refraction
    5. 25.4 Total Internal Reflection
    6. 25.5 Dispersion: The Rainbow and Prisms
    7. 25.6 Image Formation by Lenses
    8. 25.7 Image Formation by Mirrors
    9. Glossary
    10. Section Summary
    11. Conceptual Questions
    12. Problems & Exercises
    13. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  27. 26 Vision and Optical Instruments
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 26.1 Physics of the Eye
    3. 26.2 Vision Correction
    4. 26.3 Color and Color Vision
    5. 26.4 Microscopes
    6. 26.5 Telescopes
    7. 26.6 Aberrations
    8. Glossary
    9. Section Summary
    10. Conceptual Questions
    11. Problems & Exercises
    12. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  28. 27 Wave Optics
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 27.1 The Wave Aspect of Light: Interference
    3. 27.2 Huygens's Principle: Diffraction
    4. 27.3 Young’s Double Slit Experiment
    5. 27.4 Multiple Slit Diffraction
    6. 27.5 Single Slit Diffraction
    7. 27.6 Limits of Resolution: The Rayleigh Criterion
    8. 27.7 Thin Film Interference
    9. 27.8 Polarization
    10. 27.9 *Extended Topic* Microscopy Enhanced by the Wave Characteristics of Light
    11. Glossary
    12. Section Summary
    13. Conceptual Questions
    14. Problems & Exercises
    15. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  29. 28 Special Relativity
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 28.1 Einstein’s Postulates
    3. 28.2 Simultaneity And Time Dilation
    4. 28.3 Length Contraction
    5. 28.4 Relativistic Addition of Velocities
    6. 28.5 Relativistic Momentum
    7. 28.6 Relativistic Energy
    8. Glossary
    9. Section Summary
    10. Conceptual Questions
    11. Problems & Exercises
    12. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  30. 29 Introduction to Quantum Physics
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 29.1 Quantization of Energy
    3. 29.2 The Photoelectric Effect
    4. 29.3 Photon Energies and the Electromagnetic Spectrum
    5. 29.4 Photon Momentum
    6. 29.5 The Particle-Wave Duality
    7. 29.6 The Wave Nature of Matter
    8. 29.7 Probability: The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle
    9. 29.8 The Particle-Wave Duality Reviewed
    10. Glossary
    11. Section Summary
    12. Conceptual Questions
    13. Problems & Exercises
    14. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  31. 30 Atomic Physics
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 30.1 Discovery of the Atom
    3. 30.2 Discovery of the Parts of the Atom: Electrons and Nuclei
    4. 30.3 Bohr’s Theory of the Hydrogen Atom
    5. 30.4 X Rays: Atomic Origins and Applications
    6. 30.5 Applications of Atomic Excitations and De-Excitations
    7. 30.6 The Wave Nature of Matter Causes Quantization
    8. 30.7 Patterns in Spectra Reveal More Quantization
    9. 30.8 Quantum Numbers and Rules
    10. 30.9 The Pauli Exclusion Principle
    11. Glossary
    12. Section Summary
    13. Conceptual Questions
    14. Problems & Exercises
    15. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  32. 31 Radioactivity and Nuclear Physics
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 31.1 Nuclear Radioactivity
    3. 31.2 Radiation Detection and Detectors
    4. 31.3 Substructure of the Nucleus
    5. 31.4 Nuclear Decay and Conservation Laws
    6. 31.5 Half-Life and Activity
    7. 31.6 Binding Energy
    8. 31.7 Tunneling
    9. Glossary
    10. Section Summary
    11. Conceptual Questions
    12. Problems & Exercises
    13. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  33. 32 Medical Applications of Nuclear Physics
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 32.1 Medical Imaging and Diagnostics
    3. 32.2 Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation
    4. 32.3 Therapeutic Uses of Ionizing Radiation
    5. 32.4 Food Irradiation
    6. 32.5 Fusion
    7. 32.6 Fission
    8. 32.7 Nuclear Weapons
    9. Glossary
    10. Section Summary
    11. Conceptual Questions
    12. Problems & Exercises
    13. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  34. 33 Particle Physics
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 33.1 The Yukawa Particle and the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle Revisited
    3. 33.2 The Four Basic Forces
    4. 33.3 Accelerators Create Matter from Energy
    5. 33.4 Particles, Patterns, and Conservation Laws
    6. 33.5 Quarks: Is That All There Is?
    7. 33.6 GUTs: The Unification of Forces
    8. Glossary
    9. Section Summary
    10. Conceptual Questions
    11. Problems & Exercises
    12. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  35. 34 Frontiers of Physics
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 34.1 Cosmology and Particle Physics
    3. 34.2 General Relativity and Quantum Gravity
    4. 34.3 Superstrings
    5. 34.4 Dark Matter and Closure
    6. 34.5 Complexity and Chaos
    7. 34.6 High-Temperature Superconductors
    8. 34.7 Some Questions We Know to Ask
    9. Glossary
    10. Section Summary
    11. Conceptual Questions
    12. Problems & Exercises
  36. A | Atomic Masses
  37. B | Selected Radioactive Isotopes
  38. C | Useful Information
  39. D | Glossary of Key Symbols and Notation
  40. Answer Key
    1. Chapter 1
    2. Chapter 2
    3. Chapter 3
    4. Chapter 4
    5. Chapter 5
    6. Chapter 6
    7. Chapter 7
    8. Chapter 8
    9. Chapter 9
    10. Chapter 10
    11. Chapter 11
    12. Chapter 12
    13. Chapter 13
    14. Chapter 14
    15. Chapter 15
    16. Chapter 16
    17. Chapter 17
    18. Chapter 18
    19. Chapter 19
    20. Chapter 20
    21. Chapter 21
    22. Chapter 22
    23. Chapter 23
    24. Chapter 24
    25. Chapter 25
    26. Chapter 26
    27. Chapter 27
    28. Chapter 28
    29. Chapter 29
    30. Chapter 30
    31. Chapter 31
    32. Chapter 32
    33. Chapter 33
    34. Chapter 34
  41. Index

Learning Objectives

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Discuss the rainbow formation by thin films.

The information presented in this section supports the following AP® learning objectives and science practices:

  • 6.D.1.1 The student is able to use representations of individual pulses and construct representations to model the interaction of two wave pulses to analyze the superposition of two pulses. (S.P. 1.1, 1.4)

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 noticed 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 tt size 12{t} {} smaller than a few times the wavelength of light, λλ size 12{λ} {}. Since color is associated indirectly with λλ size 12{λ} {} and since all interference depends in some way on the ratio of λλ size 12{λ} {} to the size of the object involved, we should expect to see different colors for different thicknesses of a film, as in Figure 27.32.

Soap bubbles reflecting mostly purple and blue light with some regions of orange.
Figure 27.32 These soap bubbles exhibit brilliant colors when exposed to sunlight. (credit: Scott Robinson, Flickr)

What causes thin film interference? Figure 27.33 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). Since the ray that enters the film travels a greater distance, it may be in or out of phase with the ray reflected from the top. However, consider for a moment, again, the bubbles in Figure 27.32. 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 ray 1 and ray 2 in Figure 27.33 is negligible; so why should they interfere destructively and not constructively? The answer is that a phase change can occur upon reflection. The rule is as follows:

When light reflects from a medium having an index of refraction greater than that of the medium in which it is traveling, a 180º 180º phase change (or a λ / 2 λ / 2 shift) occurs.

The figure shows three materials, or media, stacked one upon the other. The topmost medium is labeled n one, the next is labeled n two and its thickness is t, and the lowest is labeled n three. A light ray labeled incident light starts in the n one medium and propagates down and to the right to strike the n one n two interface. The ray gets partially reflected and partially refracted. The partially reflected ray is labeled ray one. The refracted ray continues downward in the n two medium and is reflected back up from the n two n three interface. This reflected ray, labeled ray two, refracts again upon passing up through the n two n one interface and continues upward parallel to ray one. Ray one and ray two then enter an observer’s eye.
Figure 27.33 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 will interfere in a way that depends on the thickness of the film and the indices of refraction of the various media.

If the film in Figure 27.33 is a soap bubble (essentially water with air on both sides), then there is a λ/2λ/2 size 12{λ/2} {} shift for ray 1 and none for ray 2. Thus, when the film is very thin, the path length difference between the two rays is negligible, they are exactly out of phase, and destructive interference will occur at all wavelengths and so the soap bubble will be dark here.

The thickness of the film relative to the wavelength of light is the other crucial factor in thin film interference. Ray 2 in Figure 27.33 travels a greater distance than ray 1. For light incident perpendicular to the surface, ray 2 travels a distance approximately 2t2t size 12{2t} {} farther than ray 1. When this distance is an integral or half-integral multiple of the wavelength in the medium (λn=λ/nλn=λ/n size 12{λ rSub { size 8{n} } =λ/n} {}, where λλ size 12{λ} {} is the wavelength in vacuum and nn size 12{n} {} is the index of refraction), constructive or destructive interference occurs, depending also on whether there is a phase change in either ray.

Example 27.6 Calculating Non-reflective Lens Coating Using Thin Film Interference

Sophisticated cameras use a series of several lenses. Light can reflect from the surfaces of these various lenses and degrade image clarity. To limit these reflections, lenses are coated with a thin layer of magnesium fluoride that causes destructive thin film interference. What is the thinnest this film can be, if its index of refraction is 1.38 and it is designed to limit the reflection of 550-nm light, normally the most intense visible wavelength? The index of refraction of glass is 1.52.

Strategy

Refer to Figure 27.33 and use n1=100n1=100 size 12{n rSub { size 8{1} } ="100"} {} for air, n2=1.38n2=1.38 size 12{n rSub { size 8{2} } =1 "." "38"} {}, and n3=1.52n3=1.52 size 12{n rSub { size 8{3} } =1 "." "52"} {}. Both ray 1 and ray 2 will have a λ/2λ/2 size 12{λ/2} {} shift upon reflection. Thus, to obtain destructive interference, ray 2 will need to travel a half wavelength farther than ray 1. For rays incident perpendicularly, the path length difference is 2t2t size 12{2t} {}.

Solution

To obtain destructive interference here,

2t = λ n 2 2 , 2t = λ n 2 2 , size 12{2t= { {λ rSub { size 8{n rSub { size 6{2} } } } } over {2} } ,} {}
27.33

where λn2λn2 size 12{λ rSub { size 8{n rSub { size 6{2} } } } } {} is the wavelength in the film and is given by λn2=λn2λn2=λn2 size 12{λ rSub { size 8{n rSub { size 6{2} } } } = { {λ} over {n rSub {2} } } } {}.

Thus,

2t = λ / n 2 2 . 2t = λ / n 2 2 . size 12{2t= { { {λ} slash {n rSub { size 8{2} } } } over {2} } } {}
27.34

Solving for tt size 12{t} {} and entering known values yields

t = λ/n24=(550 nm)/1.384 = 99.6 nm. t = λ/n24=(550 nm)/1.384 = 99.6 nm. alignl { stack { size 12{t= { { {λ} slash {n rSub { size 8{2} } } } over {4} } = { { { \( "550"`"nm" \) } slash {1 "." "38"} } over {4} } } {} # ="99" "." 6`"nm" {} } } {}
27.35

Discussion

Films such as the one in this example are most effective in producing destructive interference when the thinnest layer is used, since light over a broader range of incident angles will be reduced in intensity. These films are called non-reflective coatings; this is only an approximately correct description, though, since other wavelengths will only be partially cancelled. Non-reflective coatings are used in car windows and sunglasses.

Thin film interference is most constructive or most destructive when the path length difference for the two rays is an integral or half-integral wavelength, respectively. That is, for rays incident perpendicularly, 2t=λn,n,n,2t=λn,n,n, or 2t=λn/2,n/2,n/2,2t=λn/2,n/2,n/2,. To know whether interference is constructive or destructive, you must also determine if there is a phase change upon reflection. Thin film interference thus depends on film thickness, the wavelength of light, and the refractive indices. For white light incident on a film that varies in thickness, you will observe rainbow colors of constructive interference for various wavelengths as the thickness varies.

Example 27.7 Soap Bubbles: More Than One Thickness can be Constructive

(a) What are the three smallest thicknesses of a soap bubble that produce constructive interference for red light with a wavelength of 650 nm? The index of refraction of soap is taken to be the same as that of water. (b) What three smallest thicknesses will give destructive interference?

Strategy and Concept

Use Figure 27.33 to visualize the bubble. Note that n1=n3=1.00n1=n3=1.00 size 12{n rSub { size 8{1} } =n rSub { size 8{3} } =1 "." "00"} {} for air, and n2=1.333n2=1.333 size 12{n rSub { size 8{2} } =1 "." "333"} {} for soap (equivalent to water). There is a λ/2λ/2 size 12{λ/2} {} shift for ray 1 reflected from the top surface of the bubble, and no shift for ray 2 reflected from the bottom surface. To get constructive interference, then, the path length difference (2t2t size 12{2t} {}) must be a half-integral multiple of the wavelength—the first three being λn/2,n/2λn/2,n/2 size 12{λ rSub { size 8{n} } /2,`3λ rSub { size 8{n} } /2} {}, and n/2n/2 size 12{5λ rSub { size 8{n} } /2} {}. To get destructive interference, the path length difference must be an integral multiple of the wavelength—the first three being 0,λn0,λn size 12{0,`λ rSub { size 8{n} } } {}, and nn size 12{2λ rSub { size 8{n} } } {}.

Solution for (a)

Constructive interference occurs here when

2tc=λn2,n2,n2, .2tc=λn2,n2,n2, . size 12{2t rSub { size 8{c} } = { {λ rSub { size 8{n} } } over {2} } ,` { {3λ rSub { size 8{n} } } over {2} } ,` { {5λ rSub { size 8{n} } } over {2} } ", "` dotslow } {}
27.36

The smallest constructive thickness tctc size 12{t rSub { size 8{c} } } {} thus is

tc = λn4 = λ/n4 = (650nm)/1.3334 = 122 nm. tc = λn4 = λ/n4 = (650nm)/1.3334 = 122 nm. alignl { stack { size 12{t rSub { size 8{c} } = { {λ rSub { size 8{n} } } over {4} } = { {λ/n} over {4} } = { { { \( "650"`"nm" \) } slash {1 "." "333"} } over {4} } } {} # ="122"`"nm" {} } } {}
27.37

The next thickness that gives constructive interference is tc=n/4tc=n/4, so that

tc=366 nm.tc=366 nm. size 12{ { {t}} sup { ' } rSub { size 8{c} } ="366"`"nm"} {}
27.38

Finally, the third thickness producing constructive interference is t′′cn/4t′′cn/4 size 12{ { {t}} sup { '' } rSub { size 8{c} } <= 5λ rSub { size 8{n} } /4} {}, so that

t′′c=610nm.t′′c=610nm. size 12{ { {t}} sup { '' } rSub { size 8{c} } ="610"`"nm"} {}
27.39

Solution for (b)

For destructive interference, the path length difference here is an integral multiple of the wavelength. The first occurs for zero thickness, since there is a phase change at the top surface. That is,

td=0.td=0. size 12{t rSub { size 8{d} } =0} {}
27.40

The first non-zero thickness producing destructive interference is

2td=λn.2td=λn. size 12{2 { {t}} sup { ' } rSub { size 8{d} } =λ rSub { size 8{n} } } {}
27.41

Substituting known values gives

td = λn2=λ/n2=(650nm)/1.3332 = 244 nm. td = λn2=λ/n2=(650nm)/1.3332 = 244 nm. alignl { stack { size 12{ { {t}} sup { ' } rSub { size 8{d} } = { {λ"" lSub { size 8{n} } } over {2} } = { {λ/n} over {2} } = { { { \( "650"`"nm" \) } slash {1 "." "333"} } over {2} } } {} # ="244"`"nm" {} } } {}
27.42

Finally, the third destructive thickness is 2t′′d=n2t′′d=n size 12{2 { {t}} sup { '' } rSub { size 8{d} } =2λ rSub { size 8{n} } } {}, so that

t′′d = λn=λn=650nm1.333 = 488 nm. t′′d = λn=λn=650nm1.333 = 488 nm. alignl { stack { size 12{ { {t}} sup { '' } rSub { size 8{d} } =λ rSub { size 8{n} } = { {λ} over {n} } = { {"650"`"nm"} over {1 "." "333"} } } {} # ="488"`"nm" {} } } {}
27.43

Discussion

If the bubble was illuminated with pure red light, we would see bright and dark bands at very uniform increases in thickness. First would be a dark band at 0 thickness, then bright at 122 nm thickness, then dark at 244 nm, bright at 366 nm, dark at 488 nm, and bright at 610 nm. If the bubble varied smoothly in thickness, like a smooth wedge, then the bands would be evenly spaced.

Another example of thin film interference can be seen when microscope slides are separated (see Figure 27.34). The slides are very flat, so that the wedge of air between them increases in thickness very uniformly. A phase change occurs at the second surface but not the first, and so there is a dark band where the slides touch. The rainbow colors of constructive interference repeat, going from violet to red again and again as the distance between the slides increases. As the layer of air increases, the bands become more difficult to see, because slight changes in incident angle have greater effects on path length differences. If pure-wavelength light instead of white light is used, then bright and dark bands are obtained rather than repeating rainbow colors.

Figure A shows two microscope slides that have been pressed together. Multicolor swirling rainbow bands are visible coming from the slides. Figure B shows a cross section of two glass slides stacked one on top of the other. The lower slide is horizontal and the upper slide is tilted up at an angle that is larger than the actual angle between slides would be. Two rays come from above and impinge upon the slides. Their refraction and partial reflection is shown at each glass air interface.
Figure 27.34 (a) The rainbow color bands are produced by thin film interference in the air between the two glass slides. (b) Schematic of the paths taken by rays in the wedge of air between the slides.

An important application of thin film interference is found in the manufacturing of optical instruments. A lens or mirror can be compared with a master as it is being ground, allowing it to be shaped to an accuracy of less than a wavelength over its entire surface. Figure 27.35 illustrates the phenomenon called Newton’s rings, which occurs when the plane surfaces of two lenses are placed together. (The circular bands are called Newton’s rings because Isaac Newton described them and their use in detail. Newton did not discover them; Robert Hooke did, and Newton did not believe they were due to the wave character of light.) Each successive ring of a given color indicates an increase of only one wavelength in the distance between the lens and the blank, so that great precision can be obtained. Once the lens is perfect, there will be no rings.

This figure shows rainbow-colored concentric rings obtained when two plano-convex lenses are placed together with their flat surfaces in contact.
Figure 27.35 “Newton's rings” interference fringes are produced when two plano-convex lenses are placed together with their plane surfaces in contact. The rings are created by interference between the light reflected off the two surfaces as a result of a slight gap between them, indicating that these surfaces are not precisely plane but are slightly convex. (credit: Ulf Seifert, Wikimedia Commons)

The wings of certain moths and butterflies have nearly iridescent colors due to thin film interference. In addition to pigmentation, the wing’s color is affected greatly by constructive interference of certain wavelengths reflected from its film-coated surface. Car manufacturers are offering special paint jobs that use thin film interference to produce colors that change with angle. This expensive option is based on variation of thin film path length differences with angle. Security features on credit cards, banknotes, driving licenses and similar items prone to forgery use thin film interference, diffraction gratings, or holograms. Australia led the way with dollar bills printed on polymer with a diffraction grating security feature making the currency difficult to forge. Other countries such as New Zealand and Taiwan are using similar technologies, while the United States currency includes a thin film interference effect.

Making Connections: Take-Home Experiment—Thin Film Interference

One feature of thin film interference and diffraction gratings is that the pattern shifts as you change the angle at which you look or move your head. Find examples of thin film interference and gratings around you. Explain how the patterns change for each specific example. Find examples where the thickness changes giving rise to changing colors. If you can find two microscope slides, then try observing the effect shown in Figure 27.34. Try separating one end of the two slides with a hair or maybe a thin piece of paper and observe the effect.

Problem-Solving Strategies for Wave Optics

Step 1. Examine the situation to determine that interference is involved. Identify whether slits or thin film interference are considered in the problem.

Step 2. If slits are involved, note that diffraction gratings and double slits produce very similar interference patterns, but that gratings have narrower (sharper) maxima. Single slit patterns are characterized by a large central maximum and smaller maxima to the sides.

Step 3. If thin film interference is involved, take note of the path length difference between the two rays that interfere. Be certain to use the wavelength in the medium involved, since it differs from the wavelength in vacuum. Note also that there is an additional λ/2λ/2 size 12{λ/2} {} phase shift when light reflects from a medium with a greater index of refraction.

Step 4. Identify exactly what needs to be determined in the problem (identify the unknowns). A written list is useful. Draw a diagram of the situation. Labeling the diagram is useful.

Step 5. Make a list of what is given or can be inferred from the problem as stated (identify the knowns).

Step 6. Solve the appropriate equation for the quantity to be determined (the unknown), and enter the knowns. Slits, gratings, and the Rayleigh limit involve equations.

Step 7. For thin film interference, you will have constructive interference for a total shift that is an integral number of wavelengths. You will have destructive interference for a total shift of a half-integral number of wavelengths. Always keep in mind that crest to crest is constructive whereas crest to trough is destructive.

Step 8. Check to see if the answer is reasonable: Does it make sense? Angles in interference patterns cannot be greater than 90º90º size 12{"90"°} {}, for example.

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