Sketch the variation with angle of
diffraction of the relative intensity of
light diffracted at a single slit.
The diffraction fringe
pattern produced by
a circular aperture.
When plane wavefronts pass through a
small aperture they spread out
This is an example of the phenomenon
Light waves are no exception to this
However, when we look at the diffraction
pattern produced by light we observe a
that is, on the screen there is a bright
central maximum with "secondary" maxima
either side of it.
There are also regions where there is no
illumination and these minima separate the
This intensity pattern arises from the fact
that each point on the slit acts, in
accordance with Huygen's principle, as a
source of secondary wavefronts.
It is the interference between these
secondary wavefronts that produces the
typical diffraction pattern.
DERIVATION OF EQUATION
We can deduce a useful relationship from a
In this argument we deal with something
that is called Fraunhofer diffraction,
that is the light source and the screen are
an infinite distance away form the slit.
This can be achieved with the set up shown
in the next figure.
The source is placed at the principal focus
of lens 1 and the screen is placed at the
principal focus of lens 2.
Lens 1 ensures that parallel wavefronts fall
on the single slit and lens 2 ensures that
the parallel rays are brought to a focus on
The same effect can be achieved using a
laser and placing the screen some
distance from the slit.
Diffraction at a single aperture
Single Aperture Diffraction
EFFECT OF SLIT WIDTH
Single Aperture Diffraction
Pattern: Narrower Aperture
To obtain a good idea of how the
single slit pattern comes about we
consider the next diagram
In particular we consider the light from
one edge of the slit to the point P where
this point is just one wavelength further
from the lower edge of the slit than it is
from the upper edge.
The secondary wavefront from the upper
edge will travel a distance λ/2 further than
a secondary wavefront from a point at the
centre of the slit.
Hence when these wavefronts arrive at P
they will be out of phase and will interfere
The wavefronts from the next point below
the upper edge will similarly interfere
destructively with the wavefront from the
next point below the centre of the slit.
In this way we can pair the sources across
the whole width of the slit.
If the screen is a long way from the slit
then the angles θ1 and θ2 become nearly
From the previous figure we see therefore
that there will be a minimum at P if
λ = b sin θ1
where b is the width of the slit.
However, both angles are very small, equal to θ
say, so we can write that
θ = λ / b
This actually gives us the half-angular width of the
We can calculate the actual width of the maximum
along the screen if we know the focal length of the
lens focussing the light onto the screen. If this is f
then we have that
θ = d / f
d = f λ / b
To obtain the position of the next maximum in
the pattern we note that the path difference is
We therefore divide the slit into three equal
parts, two of which will
produce wavefronts that will cancel and the
other producing wavefronts that reinforce. The
intensity of the second maximum is therefore
much less than the intensity of the central
(Much less than one third in fact since the
wavefronts that reinforce will have differing
Light from a laser is used to form a single slit
diffraction pattern. The width of the slit is 0.10 mm
and the screen is placed 3.0 m from the slit. The
width of the central maximum is measured as 2.6 cm.
What is the wavelength of the laser light?
Since the screen is a long way from the
slit we can use the small angle
approximation such that the f in d = f λ /
b becomes 3.0m. (i.e. f is the distance
from the slit to the screen)
The half width of the centre maximum is
1.3cm so we have
λ = (1.3 x 10-2) x(0.10 x 10-3) / 3.0
λ = 430 x 10-9 or 430 nm