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Wave Optics

  1. William J. Dallas

Published Online: 15 OCT 2004

DOI: 10.1002/3527600434.eap646

Encyclopedia of Applied Physics

Encyclopedia of Applied Physics

How to Cite

Dallas, W. J. 2004. Wave Optics. Encyclopedia of Applied Physics. .

Author Information

  1. University of Arizona, Department of Radiology, Tucson, AZ, USA

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 15 OCT 2004


Narrowly interpreted, the term wave optics encompasses propagation, diffraction, interference, and thin films. Under a broader interpretation, wave optics includes those areas of optics governed by the electromagnetic wave equation. We begin with a brief review of the wave equation, which is built on the foundation of Maxwell's equations. Next is a translation of the wave equation into the propagation relations of linear systems theory. An interesting and useful aspect of propagation is the existence of helical light; light that twists as it travels. Another aspect of optical waves is its propagation from curved surfaces. We move on to interference and then diffraction. The hologram serves as an important example of interference, while the computer-generated hologram is an example of control over diffraction. Talbot, or Fourier self-imaging, is a stunning example of the richness of propagation from diffractive optical elements. Finally, we discuss the subject of phase retrieval from irradiance distributions on multiple surfaces.


  • wave-propagation;
  • interference;
  • diffraction;
  • holography;
  • phase-retrieval;
  • self-imaging;
  • helical light;
  • phase-conjugation