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Destructive Wave Interference

  1. Jan 1, 2004 #1
    I was wondering about this one day and perhaps someone here can supply an explanation. Let’s assume you can get two waves on the same frequency and amplitude perfectly aligned with each other but on opposite phase so they cancel each other out, which from what I understand is called destructive wave interference.

    Since the energy from the two waves is canceled out, it can't be measured or used, correct? What happens to that energy? Doesn't that violate the law of conservation of energy?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 2, 2004 #2
    Now that's a hell of a good question.
    Destructive interferance of sound waves seems to imply that one could have an "action" (generation of sound waves) and a cancelled "reaction" (due to the interferance).
    I could think of a few novel devices if this is true. Surely it must not be that simple.
    Curious... perhaps some experts can jump in on this to explain.
  4. Jan 4, 2004 #3
    Energy is redistributed , there is no loss of energy and thus there is no violation of law of conservation of energy
  5. Jan 4, 2004 #4
    Could you elaborate that please. Energy is redistributed to where ?
  6. Jan 4, 2004 #5
    Hmm...let me say it...

    Imangine two of your friends are trying to pull something...but not from the same side...you two are just 180 deg to each other...and both of you have same strength...then you can't move the thing...can you say...that you aren't loosing energy :wink:
  7. Jan 4, 2004 #6
    You aren't loosing energy that way, it is changed to heat energy and also you are probably streching the object you are pulling, so it is redistributed there. What I don't understand is where the energy goes with the wave interference.
  8. Jan 4, 2004 #7
    In interference phenomenon there is constructive as well as destructive interfernce. Where in Constructive interference the energy adds up and in destructive interference it subtracts which makes the energy before and after interfernce same
  9. Jan 4, 2004 #8
    So you are saying that it is impossible to have destructive interference without constructive interference? Is there proof of this somewhere?
  10. Jan 4, 2004 #9
    No. Basically if it(only destructive) would happen then conservation of energy will fail
  11. Jan 4, 2004 #10
    I still don't get it. Consider the following picture (see attatchment), when the two pulses meet, only cancellation will occur. So where will be the energy re-distributed to ?

    However I understand that the energy at points of cancellation is redistributed to points of reinforcement if the interference pattern contains both destructive and constructive interferences.

    Attached Files:

    • wave.bmp
      File size:
      12.6 KB
  12. Jan 4, 2004 #11
    At the point the two will meet they will cancel each other out, but the waves will pop back out and continue on, so no energy is lost. My question was if they were going in the same direction and they lined up perfectly.

    I would imagine it would be hard to get two waves to do that, but I think it could be possible with light waves and using things like lasers, mirrors and prisms.
  13. Jan 5, 2004 #12
    To create destructive interference basically what you need is an interferometer. Here's a typical example of such a setup:

    But I don't get why the author claims all light ends up at detector 1, it sounds very contradictory. I mean, if there is no light heading towards detector 2, then which beams are interfering destructively ? .. Do all beams choose to go to D1 because they know in advance that they will interfere destructively towards D2 ? Some quantum weirdness at work here ?

    Even though I think the above example doesn't make sense I've constructed another setup yielding destructive interference at both detectors... See bottom picture:
    http://hydr0matic.insector.se/fysik/interferometer.jpg [Broken]

    If these dubble-glassed beamsplitters could be produced I believe one could make all light in an interferometer interfere destructively.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 1, 2017
  14. Jan 5, 2004 #13
    Maybe he meant that all visible light ends up at detector 1. Common sense would make you think that it would only be half the intensity, but I guess sometimes stuff like this seems to defy common sense.

    Looking at your diagram, you may have to change that first double glassed mirror to a regular beam splitter, because that other page says that the inner surface doesn't cause a phase change. But wouldn't that cause a problem with it lining up correctly?
  15. Jan 6, 2004 #14
    Can any experimental results be found on this ? It must have been tested ...

    Why would I have to change it ? Let's analyse ..

    T = Transmitted beam
    R = Reflected beam
    C = some constant phase change due to refraction in glass.

    TT: 4*C
    RR: 4*C + 2*[itex]\frac{\lambda}{2}[/itex]

    TR: 4*C
    RT: 4*C + 2*[itex]\frac{\lambda}{2}[/itex]

    The situation is the same at both ends due to the dubble-glassed beamsplitters. The numbers above will give constructive interference at both ends, but if you add another phase shift of one-half a wavelength due to distance traveled at the RX paths, there will be destructive interference at both ends.
  16. Jan 6, 2004 #15
    Forgive me for posting this stupid question: Why can two waves on the same frequency and applitude cancel eachother out?
  17. Jan 6, 2004 #16
    Probably, but I wouldn't know where to look for it, I'm not a physicist.
    That is why I suggested the change. I guess it could be done several ways.

    So, you are going to try building such a device?
  18. Jan 6, 2004 #17
    Re: Re: Destructive Wave Interference

    I found this page that shows how you can have waves cancel each other out:
    http://www.colorado.edu/physics/2000/applets/fourier.html [Broken]

    One time I've experienced this is when a friend of mine didn't wire his car stereo correctly, so that both front car door speakers were wired on the same channel, but on opposite phase. (one speaker wired backwards) He had both car doors open and turned up the stereo really loud. If you stood somewhere on a line directly behind the car, you couldn't hear the stereo, except for the echo bouncing off the hills in the distance.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 1, 2017
  19. Jan 6, 2004 #18
    Perhaps, I'm not sure. I tried to figure out a setup using single-glassed splitters but I couldn't find one. I think it's essential for the setup that the beams experience equal refraction shifts.

    If I sometime in the distant future get access to the resources, yes. I'm not exactly a physicist either you know :wink:
  20. Apr 14, 2004 #19

    Hi i m looking for the software/shareware that let me to do destructive sound interference.Where can i find it?
  21. Apr 14, 2004 #20
    waynet asked: "What happens to that energy?"

    What energy?
  22. Apr 14, 2004 #21


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    I believe the electric fied vector is zero and the magnetic field vector is zero thus we have nothing to detect the energy by in terms of 'seeing' but in terms of E and B field vetors they are still oscillating with a definiet frequncy and therefore definite energy. Just so happens the vector add to zero when 180 degrees out of phase.
  23. Jan 6, 2010 #22
    Sorry to dig this thread back up but I have been thinking about this same issue a lot. I wanted to question something further.

    The pulse example he gave was something I thought about in particular myself. What confused me is once the waves cancel each other out, what attributes of the system allow them to "know" where to continue after time T where they cancel.

    In other words if we could freeze a moment in time where they are cancelled, what can we observe to tell us that the two pulses' magnitudes would return and continue on as before? How could we tell the difference between this two pulse system and a system where there were never any pulses at all?

    Another way a look at it... even if there was one pulse and I froze time, how could I tell if the pulse was moving in a positive or negative direction along the X axis. If I can't tell, how can the Universe?

    Is this all really a version of the Uncertainty Principal?
  24. Jan 6, 2010 #23


    Staff: Mentor

    Are you interested in EM waves or sound waves, and what is the geometry of the pulses? I know more about EM than sound, and you never get any conservation of energy issues in EM.
  25. Jan 6, 2010 #24
    EM are what interests me. I've been trying to grasp things at that level and even further with things like the double slit experiment, especially how a single electron wave interfers with itself. Or maybe even deeper with how fundamental particles interact and move at a quantum level.
  26. Jan 6, 2010 #25


    Staff: Mentor

    With EM waves you have to remember that there is energy in both the E-field and the B-field. So whenever you have destructive interference in one you have constructive interference in the other such that the total energy is conserved.

    For the rest of what you describe you really need to learn the details of QM, specifically QED.
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