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Question

Explain uses of the wavefront.


Solution

A wavefront is a surface over which an optical wave has a constant phase. For example, a wavefront could be the surface over which the wave has a maximum (for example, the crest of a water wave) or a minimum (the trough of the same wave) value. The shape of a wavefront is usually determined by the geometry of the source. A point source has wavefronts that are spheres whose centres are at the point source. A fluorescent tube would have wavefronts that are cylinders concentric with the tube itself. A very large sheet of material that is uniformly illuminated would generate wavefronts that are plane waves parallel to the sheet. The direction of propagation of the wave is always perpendicular to the surface of the wavefront at each point. Thus, the wavefronts of a point source are spheres and the wave propagates radially outward – the radius of a sphere is perpendicular to its circumference at each point.

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