Pinhole Diffraction results - Young's Experiment

In summary, the conversation discusses a version of the pinhole diffraction lab that is suitable for children to work on in groups using a cheap red laser pointer and inexpensive materials. The objective is to determine the wavelength of light. The conversation also mentions the history of this experiment and provides a list of materials needed. The steps to carry out the experiment are also explained, along with a formula to calculate the wavelength. The conversation also mentions the importance of using foil instead of notecards for better results. The conversation ends with a note about the accuracy of the laser pointer's wavelength and includes pictures for reference.
  • #1
Just another twist on the pinhole diffraction lab. This version of the experiment works great for kids to work in groups to make their own target if they are given a cheap red laser pointer and some very inexpensive easy to work with and SAFE materials. The objective is the determine the wavelength of light.

Young originally did this experiment in the early 1800's with a thin sheet of card paper splitting the light beam. He discovered that light gives off wave interference patterns, when the common thinking of the time was that light rays were made of particles that traveled only in straight lines ala Newton... This is a much easier "pinhole" version of the same experiment.


-bar of soap or putty or clay
-paper clip
-straight pin (of known diameter, mine I used were .60 mm, these are quite standard)
-3 X 5 inch piece of aluminum foil (size of a notecard)
-standard laser pointer or laser level, with standard 5mW red laser (known wavelength is 650nm)
-ruler with cm marks
-measuring tape - with cm marks, or you can convert from inches (1 inch = 2.54 cm)

Taking the paperclip, embed it into the soap or clay so that it sticks up vertically. This is the mount you will use to place your little foil sheet.

Flatten the foil out a little bit by rubbing your fingers on it while it is on a table.

Poke a hole in the foil sheet with the straight pin, try to keep the foil as straight as possible.

Slide the foil into the paper clip mount being careful not to bend or crease the foil. Foil target must be perpendicular to the laser ray. Place the target about 1 foot away from the laser pointer -- this particular distance doesn't really matter.

Turn the laser on and move your foil to center the pinhole on the laser point by manipulating it while it is on the paper clip, slide it up / down or left / right until you hit your target pinhole. Try not to move the laser pointer or the soap - paperclip assembly.. try only to move the foil sheet.

Foil could be substituted with standard 3 X 5 notecards, but the paper residue from the notecard surrounding the hole that is poked causes bad interference with the actual pattern you have to measure later on. Foil delivers a really clean hole.

Target the laser through the pinhole at a dark wall I'd say at least 20 or 30 feet away and you'll get the patterns that I got in the pics. The really brilliant pattern I got was an over-exposed pic, so you can see all the multitude of nodes, I guess is what they are called technically. But with just your eyes you can easily see 4 nodes from the center bright spot.

Using Young's equation:

wavelength = y * d / m * L

y = distance from the central bright spot to the 4th bright wave node

d = pinhole width, which is equal to the known diameter of the pin

m = the node number, in this case, we're measuring to the 4th node so this is "4"

L = length from the target pinhole to the wall

I got pretty close to actual value:

y = 42 mm
d = .60 mm
m = 4
L = 9194 mm (a little over 30 feet)

experimental wavelength = 680 nanometers

actual = 650 nm

Please see pics - hope this lab helps

Mr. "O"


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  • #2

Question: how do you know the actual wavelength is 650 nm? Laser pointer specs can easily be ±5 or ±10 nm.
  • #3

Thank you for sharing your version of the pinhole diffraction experiment. It is always exciting to see how different variations of the same experiment can yield similar results. It is also great to hear that this version is suitable for children to conduct in groups, as hands-on experiments are crucial for fostering interest and understanding in science.

Young's experiment was a groundbreaking discovery in the early 19th century, challenging the prevailing belief that light traveled only in straight lines. By observing the wave interference patterns, Young was able to provide evidence for the wave nature of light.

Your materials and procedure seem simple and accessible, making it easy for anyone to replicate the experiment and determine the wavelength of light. It is interesting to note that you were able to get close to the actual value of 650 nm, despite using inexpensive and easily accessible materials.

Thank you for sharing your results and photos. I am sure this will inspire others to try this experiment and further explore the properties of light. Keep up the great work!

1. What is the Pinhole Diffraction phenomenon?

The Pinhole Diffraction phenomenon is an optical phenomenon that occurs when light passes through a small opening or aperture. As the light waves pass through the aperture, they are diffracted or spread out, resulting in a diffraction pattern.

2. How does Young's Experiment demonstrate the Pinhole Diffraction phenomenon?

Young's Experiment is a classic experiment that demonstrates the Pinhole Diffraction phenomenon. It involves a single light source, a barrier with two small openings or slits, and a screen placed behind the barrier. As light passes through the slits, it diffracts and creates an interference pattern on the screen, showing the wave-like nature of light.

3. What factors affect the diffraction pattern in Young's Experiment?

The diffraction pattern in Young's Experiment can be affected by several factors, including the size of the aperture, the wavelength of the light, and the distance between the aperture and the screen. Additionally, any obstructions or imperfections in the aperture can also affect the diffraction pattern.

4. What is the significance of Young's Experiment in understanding the nature of light?

Young's Experiment played a crucial role in understanding the wave-like nature of light. It provided evidence that light exhibits diffraction and interference, which can only be explained by the wave theory of light. This experiment also led to the development of the concept of superposition, where waves can combine to form a new wave.

5. How is the Pinhole Diffraction phenomenon utilized in modern technology?

The Pinhole Diffraction phenomenon is utilized in various modern technologies, such as diffraction grating spectrometers, laser beam shaping, and holographic imaging. It is also used in particle physics experiments to study the properties of subatomic particles. Additionally, pinhole cameras, which use the same principle of diffraction, are still used in photography today.

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