Examining Fermats Principle & Light's Path of Min Time

In summary, light follows the path of minimum time due to the principle of constructive interference between neighbor paths. This means that all other paths would lead to destructive interference between neighbor paths. When light passes from one medium to another, a portion of it is reflected due to the complex boundary conditions of electromagnetic fields. To understand the amount of reflection, one must look into the Fresnel equations and the refractive index of the materials involved.
  • #1
ajayguhan
153
1
Why does light follows a path of minimum time?

I.e., is there any theory or explanation behind the fermats principle?
 
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  • #2
Yes, that's the path that leads to constructive interference between neighbor paths. all other paths lead to destructive interference between neighbor paths.
 
  • #3
Why does another path leads to destructive interference? And when light passes from one medium to another, a part of light reflected and the remaining is just reflected.
Why it so? I mean can't the entire light just pass from one medium to another complete by bending at an angle (i.e., refraction) without any portion being reflected?
And why does reflection takes place?
 
  • #4
For the path of minimum time (because it is a extremum) all neighbor paths take the same amount of time (to first order - zero derivative of time taken with respect to path - that's the definition of extremum). That means that they all have the same phase and interfere constructively. That's not the case for other paths which end up interfering destructively.

To understand why a specific amount of light gets reflected, you need to understand the boundary conditions for the electromagnetic fields. That's a fairly complicated topic. Look up Fresnel equations.
 
  • #5
When light goes from one medium to another, there are two paths which lead to constructive interference - one which goes into the other medium, and the other is being reflected. To calculate how much is reflected, you need to know the refractive index of the materials. here is more detail: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fresnel_equations

edit: haha, dauto beat me to it :)
 

1. What is Fermat's principle?

Fermat's principle, also known as the principle of least time, states that light will take the path of least time when traveling between two points. This principle is a fundamental concept in optics and is used to explain the behavior of light in various situations.

2. How does light travel?

Light travels in a straight line and at a constant speed in a vacuum. When light enters a medium, such as air or water, it may change direction and speed due to interactions with the atoms and molecules in the medium, but it will still follow the path of least time.

3. How is Fermat's principle used in optics?

Fermat's principle is used to determine the path that light will take when traveling between two points. This is important in understanding the behavior of light in mirrors, lenses, and other optical devices. It is also used in the field of geometric optics to predict how light will reflect and refract at different surfaces.

4. Can Fermat's principle be applied to other types of waves?

Yes, Fermat's principle can be applied to any type of wave that travels from one point to another. This includes sound waves, water waves, and electromagnetic waves. In each case, the wave will take the path of least time when traveling between two points.

5. Are there any exceptions to Fermat's principle?

There are some situations where Fermat's principle does not accurately predict the path of light. These include cases where the medium is changing rapidly, such as in the presence of turbulence or a moving boundary. Additionally, quantum mechanics introduces some complexities that may not align with the predictions of Fermat's principle at a microscale.

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