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Wave Theory of Light

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Introduction About Wave Theory of Light

The Wave Theory of Light was a way scientists understood light. The theory was first spread by Christiaan Huygens and Robert Hooke in the 17th century. They at that time predicted that the light was a wave as it could refract or bend when traveling from one medium to another, reflect off shiny surfaces, diffract around objects, etc. Observers can also see interference where troughs or peaks of waves add up to produce brighter light or cancel out to create darker regions. However, in the late 17th century, many scientists were confused about the fundamental nature of light. They were entangled in a debate whether the light was a wave or a particle.  

In that instance, Sir Issac Newton was in favor of the particle nature of light. But Christiaan Huygens, the Dutch Physicist, believed that the light is made up of waves vibrating up and down in direction perpendicular to the direction of the wave propagation. Based on that belief, he formulated a way of visualizing wave propagation, which then came up as the Huygens’ Principle. The Wave Theory of Light given by Huygens has withstood the tests of time, and today, is considered the backbone of optics. Here, in this article, let us have a detailed insight into the Wave Theory of Light. 

Light always stimulated the curiosity of not just scientists but also thinkers and viewers. But, it was in the late 17th century that scientists and specialists began to understand the properties of light. On the one side, Christian Huygens believed that the light was made up of waves propagating in the direction perpendicular to the direction of its movement, Sir Issac Newton on the other side proposed that it consists of tiny particles known as the photons. 

In 1678, Huygens suggested that each point a luminous disturbance meets would itself turn into a source of the spherical wave. The sum of the secondary waves resulting from the disturbance would determine what form the new wave will take. This theory of light is known as Huygens’ Principle.

Using his principle, Huygens succeeded in deriving the laws of refraction and reflection of light. He was also successful in using his theory to explain both the linear and spherical propagation of light. Nevertheless, he was unable to describe the diffraction effects of light. After that, the experiment conducted in 1803 by Thomas Young on the interference of light proved that Huygens' Wave Theory of Light was correct. Moreover, Fresnel in 1815 provided mathematical equations for Young’s experiment.

Later, Max Planck came up with another theory and proposed that light is made of finite packages of energy known as a light quantum, which depends on the velocity and frequency of light. Following others, Einstein, in 1905, proposed light as something that possessed the characteristics of both wave and particle. Quantum mechanics later gave proof of the dual nature of light. The major weakness of the Wave Theory of Light was that light waves, like sound waves, need a medium for transmission.  The existence of the hypothetical compound luminiferous Aether proposed in 1678 by Huygens was cast into doubt in the late 19th century by the Michelson – Morley experiment. Newton's corpuscular theory proposed that light travels faster in a denser medium, whereas the wave theory given by Huygens and others implied the opposite. As the speed of light at that time could not be measured accurately, it was difficult to decide which theory would be correct. Léon Foucault was the first one to make an accurate measurement in 1850. The result provided by him supported the wave theory, and the particle theory was finally abandoned, just to partially re-emerge in the 20th century.


Light Wave Theory

Since light behaves as a wave and is made up of both electric and magnetic fields, it is categorized as the electromagnetic wave in most of the cases. Electromagnetic fields oscillate perpendicularly to the direction in which the waves travel and are also perpendicular to each other. Hence, they are known as transverse waves. Following are some significant characteristics of light : 

  • Light has a definite speed, i.e., the speed of light can never change on its own.

  • A single beam of light can travel the earth around 7.5 times in 1 second.

  • Like almost all other electromagnetic waves, light waves also travel with a speed of 3.0 x 108 m/s.

  • A light-year is the distance that light waves travel in one year. 

  • To deal with light waves, we need to consider a sine waveform. 

  • Brightness or we can say the intensity of light is represented by amplitude and depends on the distance and how much light the source produces.

  • The light emitted from a source is measured in lumens. 

  • The wavelength of light waves is shorter than infrared waves.

  • As per the formula devised by Planck, the energy of a photon is directly proportional to the frequency of light and is given as:

E= hf, where h is the Planck’s constant 6.63×10⁻³⁴ Joule - Second.


Explanation of Wave Theory of Light, its Introduction and Huygens Wave Theory.

Science is a subject that includes many theories, and each of these theories is to be understood by the students in a good manner so that they can score good marks in the exam. The other important thing is that all the theories are going to be helpful in the future as well because all the topics of science are interlinked and continuously developing. The Wave Theory or the Huygens Wave theory is no different. It is the foundational theory and hence students must have a good grasp of it because it is going to be extremely helpful in the future as well.

An Overview of the Wave Theory of Light

The way in which scientists have understood light is named the Wave Theory of Light. Robert Hooke, an English Polymath Developed a pulse theory in order to explain the origin of colors. In pulse theory, he compared the spreading of the light with the waves of the water, and on the basis of his observations developed a theory. After that Christiaan Huygens created the mathematical Wave Theory of Light in the year 1678 and after about 12 years published his book “Treatise on light” in the year 1690. 

In the Wave Theory of Light, Huygens predicted that light is a wave because it bends when traveling from one medium to another medium, just like the sound waves.

Last updated date: 27th May 2023
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FAQs on Wave Theory of Light

1. Is understanding the Wave Theory of Light hard?

First of all the students of the science subject must make a mindset that nothing is hard or difficult, and everything is achievable. And students must approach all the topics of the Wave Theory of Light with this approach. Because the Wave Theory of Light or the Huygens theory of light is not at all difficult, and that is why it is prescribed in the syllabus. Also, all the topics included in the syllabus are selected after so many considerations, and hence this topic automatically becomes approachable. The Wave Theory of Light is not difficult at all, but at the same time, it is not that easy either.

2. Is it really important to understand the Wave Theory of Light?

All the topics that are included in the syllabus are there for a reason, and hence all of those topics are important for the students to master, and the wave or the Huygens theory of light is no exception, it is just as important. Also, the Huygens theory of light is one of the basic theories of light, and this is going to be helpful in the future as well because in science all the topics are related to each other. Therefore, it is very important to understand the Wave Theory of Light.

3. What is the history behind the development of the Wave Theory of Light?

Light has always been the subject of foremost interest for the thinkers, from sir Isaac Newton to Rene Descartes, light has always given the prime interest. An interesting thing happened in the year 1665 when an English Polymath Robert Hooke developed pulse theory, in which he compared the light with the waves of water. Christiaan Huygens developed Hooke’s theory and the result of it is now famously known as the Wave Theory of Light or the Huygens theory of light.

4. Where can I find the simple explanation of the Wave Theory of Light?

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