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Concept# Diffraction from slits

Summary

Diffraction processes affecting waves are amenable to quantitative description and analysis. Such treatments are applied to a wave passing through one or more slits whose width is specified as a proportion of the wavelength. Numerical approximations may be used, including the Fresnel and Fraunhofer approximations.
Because diffraction is the result of addition of all waves (of given wavelength) along all unobstructed paths, the usual procedure is to consider the contribution of an infinitesimally small neighborhood around a certain path (this contribution is usually called a wavelet) and then integrate over all paths (= add all wavelets) from the source to the detector (or given point on a screen).
Thus in order to determine the pattern produced by diffraction, the phase and the amplitude of each of the wavelets is calculated. That is, at each point in space we must determine the distance to each of the simple sources on the incoming wavefront. If the distance to each of the simple sources differs by an integer number of wavelengths, all the wavelets will be in phase, resulting in constructive interference. If the distance to each source is an integer plus one half of a wavelength, there will be complete destructive interference. Usually, it is sufficient to determine these minima and maxima to explain the observed diffraction effects.
The simplest descriptions of diffraction are those in which the situation can be reduced to a two-dimensional problem. For water waves, this is already the case, as water waves propagate only on the surface of the water. For light, we can often neglect one dimension if the diffracting object extends in that direction over a distance far greater than the wavelength. In the case of light shining through small circular holes we will have to take into account the full three-dimensional nature of the problem.
Several qualitative observations can be made of diffraction in general:
The angular spacing of the features in the diffraction pattern is inversely proportional to the dimensions of the object causing the diffraction.

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