Diffraction Grating Art
An optical device consisting of an assembly of narrow slits or grooves, which by diffracting light produces a large number of beams which can interfere in such a way as to produce spectra. Since the angles at which constructive interference patterns are produced by a grating depend on the lengths of the waves being diffracted, the waves of various lengths in a beam of light striking the grating will be separated into a number of spectra, produced in various orders of interference on either side of an undeviated central image. By controlling the shape and size of the diffracting grooves (width equal to a wavelength of light visable through an electron scanning microscope) when producing a grating and by illuminating the grating at suitable angles, a beam of light can be thrown into a single spectrum whose purity and brightness may exceed that produced by a prism. Gratings can now be made with much larger apertures than prisms, and in such form that they waste less light and give higher intrinsic dispersion and resolving power. (This and the History below are from Wikipedia.com)
History of Diffraction
The work of Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879), German physicist Heinrich Rudolf Hertz (1857-1894), and others confirmed that light did indeed travel in waves. Later, however, Albert Einstein (1879-1955) showed that light behaves both as a wave and, in certain circumstances, as a particle.
In 1912, a few years after Einstein published his findings, German physicist Max Theodor Felix von Laue (1879-1960) created a diffraction grating, discussed below. Using crystals in his grating, he proved that x rays are part of the electromagnetic spectrum. Laue’s work, which earned him the Nobel Prize in physics in 1914, also made it possible to measure the length of x rays, and, ultimately, provided a means for studying the atomic structure of crystals and polymers.
Scientific Breakthroughs Made Possible By Diffraction Studies
Studies in diffraction advanced during the early twentieth century. In 1926, English physicist J. D. Bernal (1901-1971) developed the Bernal chart, enabling scientists to deduce the crystal structure of a solid by analyzing photographs of x-ray diffraction patterns. A decade later, Dutch-American physical chemist Peter Joseph William Debye (1884-1966) won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his studies in the diffraction of x rays and electrons in gases, which advanced understanding of molecular structure. In 1937, a year after Debye’s Nobel, two other scientists—American physicist Clinton Joseph Davisson (1881-1958) and English physicist George Paget Thomson (1892-1975)—won the Prize in Physics for their discovery that crystals can bring about the diffraction of electrons.
Also, in 1937, English physicist William Thomas Astbury (1898-1961) used x-ray diffraction to discover the first information concerning nucleic acid, which led to advances in the study of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), the building-blocks of human genetics. In 1952, English biophysicist Maurice Hugh Frederick Wilkins (1916-) and molecular biologist Rosalind Elsie Franklin (1920-1958) used x-ray diffraction to photograph DNA. Their work directly influenced a breakthrough event that followed a year later: the discovery of the double-helix or double-spiral model of DNA by American molecular biologists James D. Watson (1928-) and Francis Crick (1916-). Today, studies in DNA are at the frontiers of research in biology and related fields.
History of Diffraction Grating
The use of a diffraction grating was first developed in the 1870s by American physicist Henry Augustus Rowland (1848-1901). A diffraction grating is an optical device that consists of not one but many thousands of apertures: Rowland’s machine used a fine diamond point to rule glass gratings, with about 15,000 lines per in (2.2 cm). Diffraction gratings today can have as many as 100,000 apertures per inch. The apertures in a diffraction grating are not mere holes, but extremely narrow parallel slits that transform a beam of light into a spectrum.
Each of these openings diffracts the light beam, but because they are evenly spaced and the same in width, the diffracted waves experience constructive interference. (The latter phenomenon, which describes a situation in which two or more waves combine to produce a wave of greater magnitude than either, is discussed in the essay on Interference.) This constructive interference pattern makes it possible to view components of the spectrum separately, thus enabling a scientist to observe characteristics ranging from the structure of atoms and molecules to the chemical composition of stars.