Interferometry – Introduction
Interferometry is a family of techniques in which waves are superimposed for measurement purposes. These waves tend to be radio, sound or optical waves. Various measurements can be obtained using interferometry that portray characteristics of the medium through which the waves propagate or properties of the waves themselves. In terms of optics, two light beams can be split to create an interference pattern when the waves combine (superimpose). This superposition can lead to a diminished wave, an increased wave or a wave completely reduced in amplitude. In an easily realizable physical sense, tossing a stone into a pond creates concentric waves that radiate away from where the stone was tossed. If two stones are thrown near each other, their waves would interfere with each other creating the same effect described previously. Constructive interference is the superposition of waves that results in a larger amplitude whereas destructive interference diminishes the resultant amplitude. Normally, the interference is either partially constructive or partially destructive, unless the waves are perfectly out of phase. The following image displays total constructive and destructive interference.
A simple way to explain the operation of an interferometer is that it converts a phase difference to an intensity. When two waves of the same frequency are added together, the result depends only on the phase difference between them, as explained previously.
The image above shows a Michelson interferometer which uses two beams of light to measure small displacements, refractive index changes and surface irregularities. The beams are split using a mirror that is not completely reflective and angled so that one beam is reflected, and one is not. The two beams travel in separate paths which combine to produce interference. Whether the waves combine destructively or constructively depends on distancing between the mirrors. Because the device shows the difference in path lengths, it is a differential device. Generally, one leg length is kept constant for control purposes.