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Estimating the wavelength of light using a diffraction grating

Ray box without lens, meter rules x2, diffraction grating with 300 lines
per mm, voltage supply for ray box
Diffraction grating (transmission grating) is a sheet of glass plate with a large number
of equally fine, closely spaced parallel lines ruled.
In the grating, each narrow slit acts as a source of light
diffracted through a large angle. When the plane waves
of monochromatic light with wavelength fall on the
grating with grating space d, secondary wavelets come
from successive slits with angle to the incident beam
direction will reinforce together in that direction. Path
difference between any two adjacent rays is dsin, given that the distance from retina
is much larger than the slit width.
Equation d sin = n can also be applied when a white light source is used, which
instead is a spectrum of light consisting different frequency light rays. When it is
incident normally on the diffraction grating, several coloured spectra are observed on
the either side of the normal.

At the middle is the zero-order fringe, which is white in colour. At this fringe, all
frequencies of light has path difference = 0 , . They coincide together, giving a
combined white colour.
Higher orders of light fringes will appear as continuous spectrum with red light
observed at outer edge and violet light observed in inner edge. That is because violet
light has a smaller than red one, giving a smaller diffraction in the same order. Thus
they appear closer to the central spectral line.
Dispersion of the diffraction band is also inversely proportional to the grating space d
by the theory d sin = n. Therefore through a finer grating, higher order pattern can
be observed in a higher resolution. However overlap of different order spectrum
should be avoided by limiting the fineness of grating used, as greater error will arise.
Experimental Set-up

Using equation d sin = n, by measuring angle and order of spectrum, wavelength

of different coloured light easily. This set-up is a good method for measuring
wavelength of light as it only requires few apparatus commonly found in laboratories
and give sharp and bright fringes.
1. Two meter rules were placed on the bench to form a T.
2. A grating was held against the end of one rule. It was used to view the vertical
filament of a ray-box lamp about 1 to 2 meters away.
3. A pencil was moved along the second ruler until it is in line with the middle of the
blue colour of the first order spectrum. Distance x was measured. The pencil was
moved to coincide with the green and red colours in turn.
4. With d sin = n , where n = 1 for first order spectrum, the wavelengths of
different colours were calculated.
=dsin /nm
Standard mean /nm



Percentage error of blue light measured: (460-446)/460 = 3.04%
Percentage error of green light measured: (550-527)/527 = 4.18%
Percentage error of red light measured: (701-670)/670 = 4.42%


A. Sources of error:
1. Error in determination of the position of the fringes as the pattern exists as a band
instead of discrete fringes.
2. Misplaced and mis-determined meter rules and middle of rule.
3. Interference of external light source diffraction grating with the original pattern,
disrupting data.
B. Precautions:
1. The light source should be placed 1-2 meters away so that parallel incident light
beam emitted is ensured.
2. Filament of the lamp should be point directly to the middle of the ruler.
3. Position of light band in both sides should be measured to obtain a fairer result
and reduce error due to tilted horizontal meter used.
C. Improvements
1. Measure wavelength of light source by using a spectrometer.
2. Repeat the experiment results to obtain a more accurate result.
Wavelength of blue light is 446nm, with percentage error of 3.04%
Wavelength of red light is 527nm, with percentage error of 4.18%
Wavelength of red light is 701nm, with percentage error of 4.42%