Light and Optics for the MCAT: Everything You Need to Know — Shemmassian Academic Consulting

15 Feb.,2023


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Take a moment to match the different terms in the equation to the image above it. While you won’t be expected to apply this equation on the MCAT, it’s useful to understand each variable. 

Note that for any interference to occur, the light sources must be coherent, meaning the waves are in-phase. This is satisfied in the double-slit experiment because the light coming through each slit is generated by the same source and therefore must maintain the same phase relationship and amplitude. The other condition for interference is that the light must be monochromatic, meaning it consists of only one frequency or color. 

What happens when we change the orientation of these two slits? A screen with many slits evenly spaced and placed close together is called a diffraction grating. The bright spots and dark spots from a diffraction grating are more intense, and the transition between them is more abrupt. The bright spots are relatively narrow, while the dark spots are wider. 

In contrast to the double-slit experiment, in the single-slit experiment, light is shone through a single slit. Since there is only one slit, only one beam of light is allowed through. The waves of light passing through this slit are still able to constructively and destructively interfere with each other. The resulting diffraction pattern from a single slit appears to be more generally dispersed than the pattern resulting from a double slit.

c) Reflection, refraction, and Snell’s law

Light interacts with solids and objects in different ways. Reflection occurs when light bounces off of a surface. There are two types of reflection: specular reflection and diffuse reflection

Specular reflection occurs when light reflects off a smooth surface at a definite angle. The simplest form of specular reflection occurs when light is shone perpendicularly at a surface. After it hits the surface, it is reflected back in the same direction it came from. 

When light is shone at an angle, the same concept is at work. To understand this, decompose the initial vector of light into two components. After the reflection, the component pointing perpendicular to the wall reverses its direction. The component pointing parallel to the wall stays the same.

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