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Proceedings Paper • Open Access • new

An improved Michelson interferometer: smoothing out the rough spots for a more effective teaching tool
Author(s): Clarke K. Eastman

Paper Abstract

The Michelson interferometer is a classic tool for demonstrating the wave nature of light, and it is a cornerstone of the optics curriculum. But many students’ experiences with this device are higher in frustration than they are in learning. That situation motivated an effort to make aligning the tool less a test of a visual acuity and patience, and more of an introduction to optics phenomena and optical engineering. Key improvements included an added beam-splitter to accommodate multiple observers, a modified telescope to quickly and reliably obtain parallel mirrors, and a series of increasing spectral-width light sources to obtain equal path lengths. This greatly improved students’ chances of success, as defined by achieving “white light fringes”. When presenting these new features to the students, high importance is placed on understanding why alignment was so difficult with the original design, and why the changes made alignment easier. By exposing the rationale behind the improvements, students can observe the process of problem-solving in an optical engineering scenario. Equally important is the demonstration that solutions can be devised or adapted based on the parts at hand, and that implementations only achieve a highly “polished’ state after several design iterations.

Paper Details

Date Published: 16 August 2017
PDF: 9 pages
Proc. SPIE 10452, 14th Conference on Education and Training in Optics and Photonics: ETOP 2017, 104521H (16 August 2017); doi: 10.1117/12.2269663
Show Author Affiliations
Clarke K. Eastman, The Institute of Optics, Univ. of Rochester (United States)


Published in SPIE Proceedings Vol. 10452:
14th Conference on Education and Training in Optics and Photonics: ETOP 2017
Xu Liu; Xi-Cheng Zhang, Editor(s)

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