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ERIC Number: EJ852878
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2009-Apr
Pages: 4
Abstractor: As Provided
Reference Count: 4
ISSN: ISSN-0031-921X
Student Difficulties in Analyzing Thin-Film Interference
Newburgh, Ronald; Goodale, Douglass
Physics Teacher, v47 n4 p227-230 Apr 2009
A question we posed in a recent final examination has uncovered a fundamental difficulty for students in understanding destructive interference. The problem stated that glass of index n[subscript 3] was coated with a thin film of a substance with index n[subscript 2]. The question then asked the student to calculate (a) the minimum coating thickness for maximum transmission into the glass and (b) the minimum thickness for minimum transmission into the glass, in both cases for a given wavelength. Questions from students during and after the examination showed that many had a problem in relating the interference to the transmission. We finally concluded that the source of confusion lay with an almost universally used figure in teaching interference in thin films, as well as the omission of the role of the electric field in reflection.
American Association of Physics Teachers. One Physics Ellipse, College Park, MD 20740. Tel: 301-209-3300; Fax: 301-209-0845; e-mail:; Web site:
Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Descriptive
Education Level: Higher Education
Audience: Teachers
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A