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### Course: Physics archive > Unit 8

Lesson 5: Wave interference# Constructive and destructive interference

Constructive interference happens when two waves overlap in such a way that they combine to create a larger wave. Destructive interference happens when two waves overlap in such a way that they cancel each other out. Wave interference also depends on the relative phase of the two waves, as this video shows through the examples of path length differences and pi shifts. Created by David SantoPietro.

## Want to join the conversation?

- How is energy conserved in destructive interference?(107 votes)
- This is a great question.

The short answer is energy is always conserved and the "missing" energy caused by the destructive interference is redistributed to the regions of constructive interference. If the waves perfectly cancel in all regions, then the energy of the wave is redirected back to the source.(70 votes)

- what if the waves have different frequencies , i guess the they would not be be coherent . so then how will interference be?(11 votes)
- the superposition rule always applies. The waves of different frequencies when collide do not form a completely constructive or destructive interference but at some points constructive and at some points destructive. look for more at the beat section. hope this helps! vote up!(27 votes)

- Is it possible to conduct a simple constructive and destructive interference experiment with sound?(2 votes)
- yes, ofc dude

When two or more sound waves occupy the same space, they affect one another. The waves do not bounce off of each, but they move through each other. The resulting wave depends on how the waves line up. Two identical sound waves can add constructively or destructively to give different results.

(source: google)(1 vote)

- What is the difference between coherent waves and identical waves?(2 votes)
- Identical waves are just waves with the same waveform, amplitude, frequency, speed, wavelength, etc.

Coherent waves are identical waves with a constant phase difference.(2 votes)

- What does David mean when he talks about a
*Consine Wave*?1:01

Where can I learn more about it?(1 vote)- Cosine wave: its a 2D representation of 2 varying quantities. It has a phase difference of pi/2 when compared to Sine wave. At a given instant, Cosine wave lags/ leads the sine wave by pi/2.

You can know more in detail (formulae, representation etc.) about it in the internet under the topics: Trignometry, sinusoidal waveforms.

Cosine and Sine waves are pretty important mathematical representations finding applications in various subjects.(4 votes)

- Are there examples of this happening in a real-life scenario like in water? or sonar? If there is, could you explain how the waves would interact especially how it would affect the amplitude, period, and phase?(2 votes)
- Noise canceling headphones use destructive interference to minimize noise. These headphones have a microphone and detect external sounds and produce sound waves that are out of phase with the incoming sound to decrease its intensity.(2 votes)

- Just wanted to confirm if this is the formula for finding phase difference of a wave:

Δϕ=(2π÷λ) × Δx

Δϕ is phase difference.

λ is the wavelength.

Δx is the path difference as given in the video.(2 votes)- Yes, the phase difference is as you've shown, Δϕ = (2π/λ) * Δx.(2 votes)

- Are we assauming that the wavelenght of the two waves are same? Sorry if its a stupid question but otherwise superstition doesn't make sense to me.(1 vote)
- ok; the answer is a bit difficult but here goes....ready??

when the waves meet, they will interfere. so...There will be an interference pattern.

if the waves are coherent (ie constant phase difference) then the pattern will be stationary

if they are not coherent (eg wavelengths NOT the same length) there will be a pattern but it will change. ir the pattern is dynamic...

ok??

put simply, if you want a stationary diffraction pattern, then yes, the wavelengths will need to be the same.

if the wavelengths are not the same, the waves can still interfere. but the pattern will fluctuate.

ok??(3 votes)

- What would happen if the wavelengths of the two sources are different?(2 votes)
- there would be a fluctuation taking place in the addition process buds...(1 vote)

- What if the two waves had a phase difference of a non-integer of pi that was not 1/2? For example, a phase difference of 1/4 or 3/4 or 1/3, etc.(2 votes)

## Video transcript

- [Instructor] So imagine
you've got a wave source. This could be a little
oscillator that's creating a wave on a string, or a little
paddle that goes up and down that creates waves on water, or a speaker that creates sound waves. This could be any wave source whatsoever creates this wave, a nice
simple harmonic wave. Now let's say you've got
a second wave source. If we take this wave
source, the second one, and we put it basically right
on top of the first one, we're gonna get wave interference because wave interference
happens when two waves overlap. And if we want to know what the
total wave's gonna look like we add up the contributions
from each wave. So if I put a little backdrop in here and I add the contributions, if the equilibrium point is right here, so that's where the wave would be zero, the total wave can be found by adding up the contributions from each wave. So if we add up the contributions
from wave one and wave two wave one here has a value of one unit, wave two has a value of one unit. One unit plus one unit is two units. And then zero units and
zero units is still zero. Negative one and negative
one is negative two, and you keep doing this
and you realize wait, you're just gonna get a really
big cosine looking wave. I'm just gonna drop down to here. We say that these waves are
constructively interfering. We call this constructive interference because the two waves
combined to construct a wave that was twice as big
as the original wave. So when two waves combine and form a wave bigger than they were before, we call it constructive interference. And because these two
waves combined perfectly, sometimes you'll hear this
as perfectly constructive or totally constructive interference. You could imagine cases
where they don't line up exactly correct, but you
still might get a bigger wave. In that case, it's still constructive. It might not be totally constructive. So that was constructive interference. And these waves were constructive? Think about it because
this wave source two looked exactly like wave source one did, and we just overlapped them
and we got double the wave, which is kinda like alright, duh. That's not that impressive. But check this out. Let's say you had another wave source. A different wave source two. This one is what we call Pi
shifted 'cause look at it. Instead of starting at a maximum, this one starts at a minimum compared to what wave source one is at. So it's 1/2 of a cycle ahead of or behind of wave source one. 1/2 of a cycle is Pi because
a whole cycle is two Pi. That's why people often
call this Pi shifted, or 180 degrees shifted. Either way, it's out of
phase from wave source one by 1/2 of a cycle. So what happens if we overlap these two? Now I'm gonna take these two. Let's get rid of that there,
let's just overlap these two and see what happens. I'm gonna overlap these two waves. We'll perform the same analysis. I don't even really need the
backdrop now because look at. I've got one and negative one. One and negative one, zero. Zero and zero, zero. Negative one and one, zero. Zero and zero, zero and
no matter where I'm at, 1/2, a negative 1/2, zero. These two waves are gonna add up to zero. They add up to nothing, so we call this destructive interference because these two waves
essentially destroyed each other. This seems crazy. Two waves add up to nothing? How can that be the case? Are there any applications of this? Well yeah. So imagine you're sitting on an airplane and you're listening to the annoying roar of the airplane engine in your ear. It's very loud and it might be annoying. So what do you do? You put on your noise
canceling headphones, and what those noise
canceling headphones do? They sit on your ear, they
listen to the wave coming in. This is what they listen to. This sound wave coming in,
and they cancel off that sound by sending in their own sound, but those headphones Pi shift the sound that's going into your ear. So they match that roar
of the engine's frequency, but they send in a sound that's Pi shifted so that they cancel and your
ear doesn't hear anything. Now it's often now completely silent. They're not perfect, but
they work surprisingly well. They're essentially
fighting fire with fire. They're fighting sound with more sound, and they rely on this idea
of destructive interference. They're not perfectly,
totally destructive, but the waves I've drawn
here are totally destructive. If they were to perfectly cancel, we'd call that total
destructive interference, or perfectly destructive interference. And it happens because
this wave we sent in was Pi shifted compared to
what the first wave was. So let me show you something interesting if I get rid of all this. Let me clean up this mess. If I've got wave source one, let me get wave source two back. So this was the wave that was
identical to wave source one. We overlap 'em, we get
constructive interference because the peaks are lining
up perfectly with the peaks, and these valleys or troughs
are matching up perfectly with the other valleys or troughs. But as I move this wave
source too forward, look at what happens. They start getting out of phase. When they're perfectly lined
up we say they're in phase. They're starting to get out of phase, and look at when I move it forward enough what was a constructive
situation, becomes destructive. Now all the peaks are
lining up with the valleys, they would cancel each other out. And if I move it forward a little more, it lines up perfectly again
and you get constructive, move it more I'm gonna get destructive. Keep doing this, I go from constructive to destructive over and over. So in other words, one way to
get constructive interference is to take two wave sources
that start in phase, and just put them right
next to each other. And a way to get destructive
is to take two wave sources that are Pi shifted out of phase, and put them right next to each other, and that'll give you destructive 'cause all the peaks match the valleys. But another way to get
constructive or destructive is to start with two
waves that are in phase, and make sure one wave gets moved forward compared to the other, but how far forward should we move these in order to get constructive and destructive? Well let's just test it out. We start here. When they're right next to
each other we get constructive. If I move this second wave source that was initially in
phase all the way to here, I get constructive again. How far did I move it? I moved it this far. The front of that speaker moved this far. So how far was that? Let me get rid of this. That was one wavelength. So look at this picture. From peak to peak is
exactly one wavelength. We're assuming these waves
have the same wavelength. So notice that essentially what we did, we made it so that the
wave from wave source two doesn't have to travel as far to whatever's detecting the sound. Maybe there's an ear here, or some sort of scientific
detector detecting the sound. Wave source two is now
only traveling this far to get to the detector,
whereas wave source one is traveling this far. In other words, we made
it so that wave source one has to travel one wavelength further than wave source two does, and that makes it so that they're in phase and you get constructive
interference again. But that's not the only option, we can keep moving wave
source two forward. We move it all the way to here, we moved it another wavelength forward. We again get constructive interference, and at this point, wave source one is having to make its wave
travel two wavelengths further than wave source two does. And you could probably see the pattern. No matter how many wavelengths
we move it forward, as long as it's an integer
number of wavelengths we again get constructive interference. So something that turns out to be useful is a formula that tells us alright, how much path length
difference should there be? So if I'm gonna call this X two, the distance that the
wave from wave source two has to travel to get to
whatever's detecting that wave. And the distance X one, that
wave source one has to travel to get to that detector. So we could write down
a formula that relates the difference in path length,
I'll call that delta X, which is gonna be the distance
that wave one has to travel minus the distance that
wave two has to travel. And given what we saw up here, if this path length
difference is ever equal to an integer number of wavelengths, so if it was zero that was when they were right next to each
other, you got constructive. When this difference is
equal to one wavelength, we also got constructive. When it was two wavelengths,
we got constructive. It turns out any integer
wavelength gives us constructive. So how would we get
destructive interference then? Well let's continue with this wave source that originally started in phase, right? So these two wave sources
are starting in phase. How far do I have to move
it to get destructive? Well let's just see. I have to move it 'til
it's right about here. So how far did the front
of that speaker move? It moved about this far, which
if I get rid of that speaker you could see is about
1/2 of a wavelength. From peak to valley,
is 1/2 of a wavelength, but that's not the only option. I can keep moving it forward. Let's just see, that's constructive. My next destructive happens here which was an extra this far. How far was that? Let's just see. That's one wavelength,
so notice at this point, wave source one is having to
go one and 1/2 wavelengths further than wave source two does. So let's just keep going. Move wave source two, that's constructive. We get another destructive here which is an extra this far forward, and that's equal to one more wavelength. So if we get rid of this you
could see valley to valley is a whole nother wavelength. So in this case, wave
source two has to travel two and 1/2 wavelengths
farther than wave source two. Any time wave source one has to travel 1/2 integer more wavelengths
than wave source two, you get destructive interference. In other words, if this
path length difference here is equal to lambda over
two, three lambda over two, which is one and 1/2 wavelengths. Five lambda over two, which
is two and 1/2 wavelengths, and so on, that leads to
destructive interference. So this is how the path length differences between two wave sources can determine whether you're gonna get constructive or destructive interference. But notice we started
with two wave sources that were in phase. These started in phase. So this whole analysis down here assumes that the two sources started
in phase with each other, i.e. neither of them are Pi shifted. What would this analysis give you if we started with one
that was Pi shifted? So let's get rid of this wave two. Let's put this wave two back in here. Remember this one? This one was Pi shifted relative to relative to wave source one. So if we put this one in here,
and we'll get rid of this, now when these two wave sources
are right next to each other you're getting destructive interference. So this time for a path length
difference of zero, right? These are both traveling the same distance to get to the detector. So X one and X two are gonna be equal. You subtract them, you'd get zero. This time the zero's giving us destructive instead of constructive. So let's see what happens
if we move this forward, let's see how far we've
gotta move this forward to again get destructive. We'd have to move it over to here. How far did we move it? Let's just check. We moved the front of
this speaker that far, which is one whole wavelength. So if we get rid of this,
we had to move the front of the speaker one whole wavelength, and look at again it's destructive. So again, zero gave us
destructive this time, and the lambda's giving us destructive, and you realize oh wait, all
of these integer wavelengths. If I move it another
integer wavelength forward, I'm again gonna get
destructive interference because all these peaks
are lining up with valleys. So interestingly, if two
sourcese started Pi out of phase, so I'm gonna change this. Started Pi out of phase,
then path length differences of zero, lambda, and two lambda aren't gonna give us constructive, they're gonna give us destructive. And so you could probably guess now, what are these path length differences of 1/2 integer wavelengths gonna give us? Well let's just find out. Let's start here, and
we'll get rid of these. Let's just check. We'll move this forward
1/2 of a wavelength and what do I get? Yup, I get constructive. So if I move this Pi shifted
source 1/2 a wavelength forward instead of giving me destructive, it's giving me constructive now. And if I move it so it goes
another wavelength forward over to here, notice
this time wave source one has to move one and
1/2 wavelengths further than wave source two. That's 3/2 wavelengths. But instead of giving
us destructive, look. These are lining up perfectly. It's giving us constructive,
and you realize oh, all these 1/2 integer wavelength
path length differences, instead of giving me destructive are giving me constructive now because one of these wave
sources was Pi shifted compared to the other. So I can take this here,
and I could say that when the two sources
start Pi out of phase, instead of leading to destructive this is gonna lead to
constructive interference. And these two ideas are the foundation of almost all interference
patterns you find in the universe, which is kind of cool. If there's an interference
pattern you see out there, it's probably due to this. And if there's an
equation you end up using, it's probably fundamentally
based on this idea if it's got wave interference in it. So I should say one more thing, that sources don't actually
have to start out of phase. Sometimes they travel around. Things happen, it's a crazy universe. Maybe one of the waves get
shifted along its travel. Regardless, if any of them get a Pi shift either at the beginning or later on, you would use this second
condition over here to figure out whether you get
constructive or destructive. If neither of them get a phase shift, or interestingly, if both
of them get a phase shift, you could use this one
'cause you could imagine flipping both of them over, and it's the same as not
flipping any of them over. So recapping, constructive
interference happens when two waves are lined up perfectly. Destructive interference happens when the peaks match the valleys
and they cancel perfectly. And you could use the
path length difference for two wave sources to
determine whether those waves are gonna interfere
constructively or destructively. The path length difference
is the difference between how far one wave has
to travel to get to a detector compared to how far
another wave has to travel to get to that same detector, assuming those two
sources started in phase and neither of them got a Pi
shift along their travels. Path length differences
of integer wavelengths are gonna give you
constructive interference, and path length differences
of 1/2 integer wavelengths are gonna give you
destructive interference. Whereas if the two sources
started Pi out of phase, or one of the got a Pi phase
shift along its travel, integer wavelengths for
the path length difference are gonna give you
destructive interference. And 1/2 integer wavelengths
for the path length difference are gonna give you
constructive interference.