Matter & Energy

Matter is composed of atoms or groups of atoms called molecules. The arrangement of particles in a material depends on the physical state of the substance. In a solid, particles form a compact structure that resists flow. Particles in a liquid have more energy than those in a solid. They can flow past one another, but they remain close. Particles in a gas have the most energy. They move rapidly and are separated from one another by relatively large distances.


Diffraction, property of wave motion, in which waves spread and bend as they pass through small openings or around barriers. Diffraction is more pronounced when the opening, or aperture, or the barrier is similar in size to or smaller than the wavelength of the incoming wave. Diffraction is a property of the motion of all waves. For example, if a radio is turned on in one room, the sound from the radio can be heard in an adjacent room even from around a doorway. Similarly, whenever water waves pass an object on the surface of the water, such as a jetty or boat dock, waves that pass the object's edge spread out into the region behind the object and directly blocked by it.

To understand this effect, Dutch physicist Christiaan Huygens proposed that each point of a wave on a flat wave front, or crest, acts like a source of secondary, spherical wavelets, or smaller waves. Before reaching a barrier, these secondary wavelets add to the original wave front. When the wave front approaches an aperture or barrier, only the wavelets approaching the unobstructed region can get past the barrier. When the size of the opening or barrier is large compared with the wavelength of the incoming wave, the sum of the wavelets passing through the aperture is nearly flat. The resulting wave front resembles the original wave front, and little bending occurs. However, when the size of the opening is comparable to or smaller than the wavelength of the incoming wave, it appears as though only a few wavelets can get through. These remaining wavelets are then a source of more wavelets that expand in all directions, and the shape of the new wave front is curved. The wavelets of these diffracted, or bent, waves can now travel different paths and subsequently interfere with each other, producing interference patterns. The shape of these patterns depends on the wavelength and the size of the aperture or barrier. According to Huygens's principle, diffraction can be thought of as the interference of a large number of coherent wave sources. Consequently, diffraction and interference are essentially the same phenomenon.