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Proceedings Paper

Wave interference: mechanics of the standing wave component and the illusion of "which way" information
Author(s): W. R. Hudgins; A. Meulenberg; R. F. Penland
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Paper Abstract

Two adjacent coherent light beams, 180° out of phase and traveling on adjacent, parallel paths, remain visibly separated by the null (dark) zone from their mutual interference pattern as they merge. Each half of the pattern can be traced to one of the beams. Does such an experiment provide both "which way" and momentum knowledge? To answer this question, we demonstrate, by examining behavior of wave momentum and energy in a medium, that interfering waves interact. Central to the mechanism of interference is a standing wave component resulting from the combination of coherent waves. We show the mathematics for the formation of the standing wave component and for wave momentum involved in the waves' interaction. In water and in open coaxial cable, we observe that standing waves form cells bounded "reflection zones" where wave momentum from adjacent cells is reversed, confining oscillating energy to each cell. Applying principles observed in standing waves in media to the standing wave component of interfering light beams, we identify dark (null) regions to be the reflection zones. Each part of the interference pattern is affected by interactions between other parts, obscuring "which-way" information. We demonstrated physical interaction experimentally using two beams interfering slightly with one dark zone between them. Blocking one beam "downstream" from the interference region removed the null zone and allowed the remaining beam to evolve to a footprint of a single beam.

Paper Details

Date Published: 10 September 2015
PDF: 12 pages
Proc. SPIE 9570, The Nature of Light: What are Photons? VI, 95700L (10 September 2015); doi: 10.1117/12.2187523
Show Author Affiliations
W. R. Hudgins, Science for Humanity Trust, Inc. (United States)
A. Meulenberg, Science for Humanity Trust, Inc. (India)
R. F. Penland, Science for Humanity Trust, Inc. (India)


Published in SPIE Proceedings Vol. 9570:
The Nature of Light: What are Photons? VI
Chandrasekhar Roychoudhuri; Al F. Kracklauer; Hans De Raedt, Editor(s)

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