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Interference vs. Diffraction: Know the Difference

Shumaila Saeed
By Shumaila Saeed || Updated on December 25, 2023
Interference is the phenomenon where waves overlap to form a new wave pattern, while diffraction is the bending and spreading of waves around obstacles and openings.
Interference vs. Diffraction

Key Differences

Interference occurs when waves, such as light or sound waves, meet and overlap, leading to the formation of a pattern of alternating intensities. Diffraction involves the bending and spreading of waves when they encounter obstacles or pass through narrow openings, affecting the wave's direction and intensity.
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In interference, constructive and destructive patterns emerge depending on how the waves align, either amplifying or canceling each other out. Diffraction leads to the creation of a series of bands or fringes, where the wave intensity varies, often seen as a spreading effect.
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Nov 20, 2023
Interference is observed when two or more waves of similar frequencies coincide, whereas diffraction occurs when a wave encounters a barrier or a slit comparable in size to its wavelength.
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Nov 20, 2023
Interference is exemplified in the overlapping ripples from two stones thrown into a pond, while diffraction is evident when light bends around the edges of an object, creating patterns of light and dark.
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Interference is crucial in technologies like noise-canceling headphones and radio telescopes, while diffraction is fundamental in understanding wave behaviors in optics, such as in the design of lenses and diffraction gratings.
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Nov 20, 2023
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Comparison Chart

Definition

Overlapping of waves leading to new patterns.
Bending and spreading of waves around obstacles.
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Resulting Pattern

Alternating bands of high and low intensity.
Series of fringes or bands due to wave spreading.
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Nov 20, 2023

Conditions

Occurs with waves of similar frequencies meeting.
Happens when waves encounter obstacles or small openings.
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Typical Examples

Light patterns in soap bubbles, sound waves in acoustics.
Light bending around corners, patterns in optical fibers.
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Nov 20, 2023

Key Importance

Used in technologies for signal enhancement or reduction.
Essential in understanding wave properties in optics.
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Nov 20, 2023
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Interference and Diffraction Definitions

Interference

The process where waves superpose to form a composite wave.
Interference in sound waves can create spots of loud or soft sounds in a room.
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Nov 16, 2023

Diffraction

The bending of waves around the corners of an obstacle or aperture.
Light diffraction through a small slit creates a pattern of bright and dark bands.
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Nov 16, 2023

Interference

A wave phenomenon leading to constructive or destructive patterns.
Interference patterns are critical in determining molecular structures in X-ray crystallography.
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Nov 16, 2023

Diffraction

The spreading of waves past barriers or through openings.
Diffraction causes sound waves to spread as they pass through a doorway.
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Nov 16, 2023

Interference

An occurrence where waves meet and either strengthen or weaken each other.
Noise-canceling headphones use sound interference to reduce unwanted ambient sounds.
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Diffraction

Wave phenomenon occurring when waves encounter obstacles.
The diffraction of water waves can be observed when they pass around a pier.
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Nov 16, 2023

Interference

The act or an instance of hindering, obstructing, or impeding.
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Oct 19, 2023

Diffraction

The change in the direction and intensity of waves near edges.
Optical diffraction creates colorful patterns in CDs and DVDs.
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Nov 16, 2023

Interference

Something that hinders, obstructs, or impedes.
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Oct 19, 2023

Diffraction

Change or dispersion of the direction and intensity of a wave as it traverses an object or aperture, especially when the size of the object or aperture approximates the wavelength of the wave.
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Oct 19, 2023

Interference

(Sports) Illegal obstruction or hindrance of an opposing player, such as hindrance of a receiver by a defender in football, hindrance of a fielder by a base runner in baseball, or checking a player not in possession of the puck in ice hockey.
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Oct 19, 2023

Diffraction

(physics) The bending of a wave around an obstacle.
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Oct 19, 2023

Interference

(Football) The legal blocking of defensive tacklers to protect and make way for the ball carrier.
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Oct 19, 2023

Diffraction

(quantum mechanics) The breaking up of an electromagnetic wave as it passes a geometric structure (e.g. a slit), followed by reconstruction of the wave by interference.
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Oct 19, 2023

Interference

(Physics) The variation of wave amplitude that occurs from the superposition of two or more waves.
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Oct 19, 2023

Diffraction

The deflection and decomposition of light in passing by the edges of opaque bodies or through narrow slits, causing the appearance of parallel bands or fringes of prismatic colors, as by the action of a grating of fine lines or bars.
Remarked by Grimaldi (1665), and referred by him to a property of light which he called diffraction.
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Oct 19, 2023

Interference

The inhibition or prevention of clear reception of broadcast signals.
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Oct 19, 2023

Diffraction

When light passes sharp edges or goes through narrow slits the rays are deflected and produce fringes of light and dark bands
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Oct 19, 2023

Interference

The distorted portion of a received signal.
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Oct 19, 2023

Diffraction

The phenomenon causing waves to spread out after passing through a slit.
Diffraction is used in spectrometers to analyze light's spectral composition.
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Nov 16, 2023

Interference

The negative or distorting effect that new learning can have on previous learning or that previous learning can have on new learning.
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Oct 19, 2023

Interference

The act of interfering with something, or something that interferes.
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Interference

(sports) The illegal obstruction of an opponent in some ball games.
They were glued to the TV, as the referee called out a fifteen yard penalty for interference.
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Oct 19, 2023

Interference

(physics) An effect caused by the superposition of two systems of waves.
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Oct 19, 2023

Interference

A distortion on a broadcast signal due to atmospheric or other effects.
They wanted to watch the game on TV, but there was too much interference to even make out the score on the tiny screen.
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Oct 19, 2023

Interference

In United States patent law, an inter partes proceeding to determine the priority issues of multiple patent applications; a priority contest.
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Oct 19, 2023

Interference

(chess) The interruption of the line between an attacked piece and its defender by sacrificially interposing a piece.
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Oct 19, 2023

Interference

(linguistics) The situation where a person who knows two languages inappropriately transfers lexical items or structures from one to the other.
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Oct 19, 2023

Interference

(nonstandard) To interfere.
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Interference

The act or state of interfering; as, the stoppage of a machine by the interference of some of its parts; a meddlesome interference in the business of others.
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Oct 19, 2023

Interference

The mutual influence, under certain conditions, as from streams of light, or pulsations of sound, or, generally, two waves or vibrations of any kind, producing certain characteristic phenomena, as colored fringes, dark bands, or darkness, in the case of light, silence or increased intensity in sounds; neutralization or superposition of waves generally.
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Oct 19, 2023

Interference

The act or state of interfering, or of claiming a right to the same invention.
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Oct 19, 2023

Interference

A policy of intervening in the affairs of other countries
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Oct 19, 2023

Interference

The act of hindering or obstructing or impeding
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Interference

Electrical or acoustic activity that can disturb communication
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Oct 19, 2023

Interference

(American football) the act of obstructing someone's path with your body;
He threw a rolling block into the line backer
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Oct 19, 2023

Interference

Any obstruction that impedes or is burdensome
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Interference

The combination of two or more waves resulting in a new wave pattern.
The colorful patterns on a soap bubble are due to light interference.
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Nov 16, 2023

Interference

The phenomenon of wave amplitude modification due to overlapping waves.
The interference of light waves creates iridescent effects in oil films on water.
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Repeatedly Asked Queries

What causes interference in waves?

Interference occurs when two or more waves overlap and combine their amplitudes.
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Nov 20, 2023

Is interference always visible in light?

Interference in light can be visible under certain conditions, like in thin films or in diffraction gratings.
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Nov 20, 2023

What's an example of interference in everyday life?

An everyday example of interference is the pattern of colors seen in a soap bubble.
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Nov 20, 2023

Can diffraction occur with all types of waves?

Yes, diffraction can occur with any type of wave, including light, sound, and water waves.
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Nov 20, 2023

What role does diffraction play in optical instruments?

Diffraction is key in designing and understanding the limitations and behaviors of optical instruments like lenses and microscopes.
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How do double-slit experiments demonstrate interference?

Double-slit experiments demonstrate interference by showing how light waves passing through two slits create an interference pattern.
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What is constructive and destructive interference?

Constructive interference occurs when wave peaks align to amplify the wave, while destructive interference happens when peaks and troughs align to weaken or cancel the wave.
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Nov 20, 2023

How does diffraction affect the image quality in a telescope?

Diffraction limits the resolution of a telescope by causing light to spread, creating a blur around points of light.
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Nov 20, 2023

Does diffraction occur more with longer or shorter wavelengths?

Diffraction is more pronounced with longer wavelengths relative to the size of the obstacle or opening.
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Can interference be used to measure distances?

Yes, interference patterns, as in interferometry, can be used to measure very small distances precisely.
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Nov 20, 2023

Why is diffraction important in sound engineering?

Diffraction is important in sound engineering as it affects how sound propagates and is perceived in different environments.
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Nov 20, 2023

How is interference used in noise-canceling technology?

Noise-canceling technology uses interference to create sound waves that cancel out unwanted noise.
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Nov 20, 2023

Is diffraction a limiting factor in the design of microchips?

Yes, diffraction limits the miniaturization of features in microchips due to light's wave nature.
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Nov 20, 2023

Can diffraction cause color changes in light?

Diffraction can cause color changes when it separates light into its component colors, as in a prism.
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Nov 20, 2023

Can interference be controlled in scientific experiments?

Yes, interference can be carefully controlled and utilized in scientific experiments, such as in holography and interferometry.
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Nov 20, 2023

Can diffraction be observed with the naked eye?

Diffraction can sometimes be observed with the naked eye, like in the spreading of light through fine fabrics.
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Nov 20, 2023

How does wavelength affect diffraction patterns?

The wavelength affects the size and spacing of diffraction patterns; longer wavelengths generally produce wider patterns.
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Nov 20, 2023

What is the principle of superposition in interference?

The principle of superposition states that the resultant wave amplitude at any point is the sum of the amplitudes of the individual waves at that point.
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Nov 20, 2023

Is interference a factor in wireless communication?

Yes, interference is a crucial factor in wireless communication, affecting signal clarity and strength.
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Nov 20, 2023

How does the size of an aperture affect diffraction?

The size of an aperture affects the degree of diffraction; smaller apertures generally lead to more noticeable diffraction effects.
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Nov 20, 2023

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About Author
Shumaila Saeed
Written by
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed, an expert content creator with 6 years of experience, specializes in distilling complex topics into easily digestible comparisons, shining a light on the nuances that both inform and educate readers with clarity and accuracy.

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