We know that visible light is the type of electromagnetic wave to which our eyes respond. Like all other electromagnetic waves, it obeys the equation

where $c=3\times {\text{10}}^{8}\phantom{\rule{0.25em}{0ex}}\text{m/s}$ is the speed of light in vacuum, $f$ is the frequency of the electromagnetic waves, and $\lambda $ is its wavelength. The range of visible wavelengths is approximately 380 to 760 nm. As is true for all waves, light travels in straight lines and acts like a ray when it interacts with objects several times as large as its wavelength. However, when it interacts with smaller objects, it displays its wave characteristics prominently. Interference is the hallmark of a wave, and in [link] both the ray and wave characteristics of light can be seen. The laser beam emitted by the observatory epitomizes a ray, traveling in a straight line. However, passing a pure-wavelength beam through vertical slits with a size close to the wavelength of the beam reveals the wave character of light, as the beam spreads out horizontally into a pattern of bright and dark regions caused by systematic constructive and destructive interference. Rather than spreading out, a ray would continue traveling straight ahead after passing through slits.

Light has wave characteristics in various media as well as in a vacuum. When light goes from a vacuum to some medium, like water, its speed and wavelength change, but its frequency $f$ remains the same. (We can think of light as a forced oscillation that must have the frequency of the original source.) The speed of light in a medium is $v=c/n$, where $n$ is its index of refraction. If we divide both sides of equation $c=f\lambda $ by $n$, we get $c/n=v=f\lambda /n$. This implies that $v=f{\lambda}_{\text{n}}$, where ${\lambda}_{\text{n}}$ is the wavelength in a medium and that

where $\lambda $ is the wavelength in vacuum and $n$ is the medium’s index of refraction. Therefore, the wavelength of light is smaller in any medium than it is in vacuum. In water, for example, which has $n=1\text{.}\text{333}$, the range of visible wavelengths is $(\text{380}\phantom{\rule{0.25em}{0ex}}\text{nm})\text{/1}\text{.}\text{333}$ to $(\text{760}\phantom{\rule{0.25em}{0ex}}\text{nm})\text{/1}\text{.}\text{333}$, or ${\lambda}_{\text{n}}=\text{285}\phantom{\rule{0.25em}{0ex}}\text{to}\phantom{\rule{0.25em}{0ex}}\text{570}\phantom{\rule{0.25em}{0ex}}\text{nm}$. Although wavelengths change while traveling from one medium to another, colors do not, since colors are associated with frequency.

# Section Summary

- Wave optics is the branch of optics that must be used when light interacts with small objects or whenever the wave characteristics of light are considered.
- Wave characteristics are those associated with interference and diffraction.
- Visible light is the type of electromagnetic wave to which our eyes respond and has a wavelength in the range of 380 to 760 nm.
- Like all EM waves, the following relationship is valid in vacuum: $c=f\lambda $, where $c=3\times {\text{10}}^{8}\phantom{\rule{0.25em}{0ex}}\text{m/s}$ is the speed of light, $f$ is the frequency of the electromagnetic wave, and $\lambda $ is its wavelength in vacuum.
- The wavelength ${\lambda}_{\text{n}}$ of light in a medium with index of refraction $n$ is ${\lambda}_{\text{n}}=\lambda /n$. Its frequency is the same as in vacuum.

# Conceptual Questions

What type of experimental evidence indicates that light is a wave?

Give an example of a wave characteristic of light that is easily observed outside the laboratory.

# Problems & Exercises

Show that when light passes from air to water, its wavelength decreases to 0.750 times its original value.

$1/1\text{.}\text{333}=0\text{.}\text{750}$

Find the range of visible wavelengths of light in crown glass.

What is the index of refraction of a material for which the wavelength of light is 0.671 times its value in a vacuum? Identify the likely substance.

1.49, Polystyrene

Analysis of an interference effect in a clear solid shows that the wavelength of light in the solid is 329 nm. Knowing this light comes from a He-Ne laser and has a wavelength of 633 nm in air, is the substance zircon or diamond?

What is the ratio of thicknesses of crown glass and water that would contain the same number of wavelengths of light?

0.877 glass to water

- College Physics
- Preface
- Introduction: The Nature of Science and Physics
- Kinematics
- Introduction to One-Dimensional Kinematics
- Displacement
- Vectors, Scalars, and Coordinate Systems
- Time, Velocity, and Speed
- Acceleration
- Motion Equations for Constant Acceleration in One Dimension
- Problem-Solving Basics for One-Dimensional Kinematics
- Falling Objects
- Graphical Analysis of One-Dimensional Motion

- Two-Dimensional Kinematics
- Dynamics: Force and Newton's Laws of Motion
- Introduction to Dynamics: Newton’s Laws of Motion
- Development of Force Concept
- Newton’s First Law of Motion: Inertia
- Newton’s Second Law of Motion: Concept of a System
- Newton’s Third Law of Motion: Symmetry in Forces
- Normal, Tension, and Other Examples of Forces
- Problem-Solving Strategies
- Further Applications of Newton’s Laws of Motion
- Extended Topic: The Four Basic Forces—An Introduction

- Further Applications of Newton's Laws: Friction, Drag, and Elasticity
- Uniform Circular Motion and Gravitation
- Work, Energy, and Energy Resources
- Introduction to Work, Energy, and Energy Resources
- Work: The Scientific Definition
- Kinetic Energy and the Work-Energy Theorem
- Gravitational Potential Energy
- Conservative Forces and Potential Energy
- Nonconservative Forces
- Conservation of Energy
- Power
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- World Energy Use

- Linear Momentum and Collisions
- Statics and Torque
- Rotational Motion and Angular Momentum
- Introduction to Rotational Motion and Angular Momentum
- Angular Acceleration
- Kinematics of Rotational Motion
- Dynamics of Rotational Motion: Rotational Inertia
- Rotational Kinetic Energy: Work and Energy Revisited
- Angular Momentum and Its Conservation
- Collisions of Extended Bodies in Two Dimensions
- Gyroscopic Effects: Vector Aspects of Angular Momentum

- Fluid Statics
- Introduction to Fluid Statics
- What Is a Fluid?
- Density
- Pressure
- Variation of Pressure with Depth in a Fluid
- Pascal’s Principle
- Gauge Pressure, Absolute Pressure, and Pressure Measurement
- Archimedes’ Principle
- Cohesion and Adhesion in Liquids: Surface Tension and Capillary Action
- Pressures in the Body

- Fluid Dynamics and Its Biological and Medical Applications
- Introduction to Fluid Dynamics and Its Biological and Medical Applications
- Flow Rate and Its Relation to Velocity
- Bernoulli’s Equation
- The Most General Applications of Bernoulli’s Equation
- Viscosity and Laminar Flow; Poiseuille’s Law
- The Onset of Turbulence
- Motion of an Object in a Viscous Fluid
- Molecular Transport Phenomena: Diffusion, Osmosis, and Related Processes

- Temperature, Kinetic Theory, and the Gas Laws
- Heat and Heat Transfer Methods
- Thermodynamics
- Introduction to Thermodynamics
- The First Law of Thermodynamics
- The First Law of Thermodynamics and Some Simple Processes
- Introduction to the Second Law of Thermodynamics: Heat Engines and Their Efficiency
- Carnot’s Perfect Heat Engine: The Second Law of Thermodynamics Restated
- Applications of Thermodynamics: Heat Pumps and Refrigerators
- Entropy and the Second Law of Thermodynamics: Disorder and the Unavailability of Energy
- Statistical Interpretation of Entropy and the Second Law of Thermodynamics: The Underlying Explanation

- Oscillatory Motion and Waves
- Introduction to Oscillatory Motion and Waves
- Hooke’s Law: Stress and Strain Revisited
- Period and Frequency in Oscillations
- Simple Harmonic Motion: A Special Periodic Motion
- The Simple Pendulum
- Energy and the Simple Harmonic Oscillator
- Uniform Circular Motion and Simple Harmonic Motion
- Damped Harmonic Motion
- Forced Oscillations and Resonance
- Waves
- Superposition and Interference
- Energy in Waves: Intensity

- Physics of Hearing
- Electric Charge and Electric Field
- Introduction to Electric Charge and Electric Field
- Static Electricity and Charge: Conservation of Charge
- Conductors and Insulators
- Coulomb’s Law
- Electric Field: Concept of a Field Revisited
- Electric Field Lines: Multiple Charges
- Electric Forces in Biology
- Conductors and Electric Fields in Static Equilibrium
- Applications of Electrostatics

- Electric Potential and Electric Field
- Introduction to Electric Potential and Electric Energy
- Electric Potential Energy: Potential Difference
- Electric Potential in a Uniform Electric Field
- Electrical Potential Due to a Point Charge
- Equipotential Lines
- Capacitors and Dielectrics
- Capacitors in Series and Parallel
- Energy Stored in Capacitors

- Electric Current, Resistance, and Ohm's Law
- Circuits, Bioelectricity, and DC Instruments
- Magnetism
- Introduction to Magnetism
- Magnets
- Ferromagnets and Electromagnets
- Magnetic Fields and Magnetic Field Lines
- Magnetic Field Strength: Force on a Moving Charge in a Magnetic Field
- Force on a Moving Charge in a Magnetic Field: Examples and Applications
- The Hall Effect
- Magnetic Force on a Current-Carrying Conductor
- Torque on a Current Loop: Motors and Meters
- Magnetic Fields Produced by Currents: Ampere’s Law
- Magnetic Force between Two Parallel Conductors
- More Applications of Magnetism

- Electromagnetic Induction, AC Circuits, and Electrical Technologies
- Introduction to Electromagnetic Induction, AC Circuits and Electrical Technologies
- Induced Emf and Magnetic Flux
- Faraday’s Law of Induction: Lenz’s Law
- Motional Emf
- Eddy Currents and Magnetic Damping
- Electric Generators
- Back Emf
- Transformers
- Electrical Safety: Systems and Devices
- Inductance
- RL Circuits
- Reactance, Inductive and Capacitive
- RLC Series AC Circuits

- Electromagnetic Waves
- Geometric Optics
- Vision and Optical Instruments
- Wave Optics
- Introduction to Wave Optics
- The Wave Aspect of Light: Interference
- Huygens's Principle: Diffraction
- Young’s Double Slit Experiment
- Multiple Slit Diffraction
- Single Slit Diffraction
- Limits of Resolution: The Rayleigh Criterion
- Thin Film Interference
- Polarization
- *Extended Topic* Microscopy Enhanced by the Wave Characteristics of Light

- Special Relativity
- Introduction to Quantum Physics
- Atomic Physics
- Introduction to Atomic Physics
- Discovery of the Atom
- Discovery of the Parts of the Atom: Electrons and Nuclei
- Bohr’s Theory of the Hydrogen Atom
- X Rays: Atomic Origins and Applications
- Applications of Atomic Excitations and De-Excitations
- The Wave Nature of Matter Causes Quantization
- Patterns in Spectra Reveal More Quantization
- Quantum Numbers and Rules
- The Pauli Exclusion Principle

- Radioactivity and Nuclear Physics
- Medical Applications of Nuclear Physics
- Particle Physics
- Frontiers of Physics
- Atomic Masses
- Selected Radioactive Isotopes
- Useful Information
- Glossary of Key Symbols and Notation