Wave Theory of Light

In the late 17th century, scientists were embroiled in a debate about the fundamental nature of light – whether it was a wave or a particle. Sir Issac Newton was a strong advocate of the particle nature of light. But, the Dutch physicist, Christiaan Huygens believed that light was made up of waves vibrating up and down perpendicular to the direction of the wave propagation, and therefore formulated a way of visualizing wave propagation. This became known as ‘Huygens’ Principle‘.

The wave theory of light proposed by Christian Huygens has stood the test of time and today, it is considered the backbones of optics. Here, in the article, let us discuss the wave theory of light in detail.

History Of The Wave Theory Of Light

Light always piqued the curiosity of thinkers and scientists. But it wasn’t until the late 17th century that scientists began to comprehend the properties of light. Sir Issac Newton proposed that light was made of tiny particles known as the photons while Christian Huygens believed that light was made of waves propagating perpendicular to the direction of its movement.

In 1678, Huygen’s proposed that every point that a luminous disturbance meets turns into a source of the spherical wave itself. The sum of the secondary waves, which are the result of the disturbance, determines what form the new wave will take. This theory of light is known as the ‘Huygens’ Principle’.

Using the above-stated principle, Huygen’s was successful in deriving the laws of reflection and refraction of light. He was also successful in explaining the linear and spherical propagation of light using this theory. However, he wasn’t able to explain the diffraction effects of light. Later, in 1803, the experiment conducted by Thomas Young on the interference of light proved Huygen’s wave theory of light to be correct. Later in 1815, Fresnel provided mathematical equations for Young’s experiment.

Max Planck proposed that light is made of finite packets of energy known as a light quantum and it depends on the frequency and velocity of light. Later, in 1905, Einstein proposed that light possessed the characteristics of both particle and wave. He suggested that light is made of small particles called photons. Quantum mechanics gave proof of the dual nature of light.

Light Wave Theory

Light Wave TheoryMost of the time, light behaves as a wave and it is categorised as one of the electromagnetic waves because it is made of both electric and magnetic fields. Electromagnetic fields perpendicularly oscillate to the direction of wave travel and are perpendicular to each other. As a result of which, they are known as a transverse wave. A few characteristics of light are as follows:

  • While dealing with light waves, we deal with the sine waveform. The period of the waveform is one full 0 to 360 degree sweep.
  • Light waves have two important characteristics known as wavelength and frequency.
  • The distance between the peaks of the wave is known as the wavelength. In case of a light wave, the wavelengths are in the order of nanometers.
  • Frequency is the number of waves that will cross past a point in a second.
  • The relationship between wavelength and frequency is given by the equation:
  • \(f=\frac{1}{T}\)

  • The speed of light in a vacuum is a universal constant which is \(3\times 10^8\) m/s.
  • As proposed by Einstein, light is made of tiny packets of energy known as photons. The formula devised by Planck determines the energy of a photon and it also shows that the energy is directly proportional to the frequency of the light.
  • \(E=hf\)

where h is the Planck’s constant \(6.63\times 10^{-34}\) Joule-Second

Although neither Huygens nor Newton realised it, they had tapped the two key aspects of one of the most crucial questions in physics – the fundamental nature of light. Stay tuned to BYJU’S to learn more about capacitors, inductors and more.

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