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What exactly is Diffraction?

Diffraction, coined by Francesco Maria Grimaldi in the 17th century, refers to the bending of waves around obstacles and openings. The term diffraction comes from the Latin diffringere, which means 'to break into pieces', and fittingly describes light breaking into different directions. Diffraction is quite different from a related term, refraction, which describes a change in direction, wavelength and speed of waves as they travel from one medium to another. Learn more about diffraction and how to observe it yourself in our Science is Everywhere episode below.

360Science™: Diffraction
In this lab experience, students observe the interference patterns that result when red and green laser lights are shined at very thin objects.

360Science™: Build a Spectroscope
from Household Materials
In this lab experience, students are challenged to design and build a spectroscope using a diffraction grating and household materials. conducting.

Measuring with Laser Light
Student Laboratory Kit
In the Measuring with Laser Light Laboratory Kit for physical science and physics, analyze the diffraction patterns produced by fishing line, copper wire, and a strand of human hair.

Rainbow Glasses
Ever wonder how colors are visible to the human eye? This activity illustrates diffraction of visible light.

Smartphone Spectroscopy
A spectroscope is a device for forming and observing the color spectrum of visible light. A spectrum is produced when light from any source is bent or dispersed. Does every type of light show the same spectrum? Turn your smartphone camera into a spectroscope to find out!

Flinn C-Spectra
Ideal for the simple observation of spectral emission lines. It is a holographic diffraction grating that separates, or diffracts, light in the same manner as a traditional ruled diffraction grating. The advantage to C-Spectra is that it can be held at any angle and the emission spectrum can still be easily observed.