Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Light path

  1. Sep 19, 2013 #1
    Why does light follows a path of minimum time?

    I.e., is there any theory or explanation behind the fermats principle?
     
    Last edited: Sep 19, 2013
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 19, 2013 #2
    Yes, that's the path that leads to constructive interference between neighbor paths. all other paths lead to destructive interference between neighbor paths.
     
  4. Sep 19, 2013 #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?
     
  5. Sep 19, 2013 #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.
     
  6. Sep 19, 2013 #5

    BruceW

    User Avatar
    Homework Helper

    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 :)
     
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook