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Re: [Phys-L] superposition and interference

Just for convenience (mine and my students') I reserved the term "interference" for the sort of patterns that result from superposition of two waves of the same frequency traveling in about the same direction (and so would not use the term in connection with superposition phenomena such as beats or standing waves). This distinction is, of course, very arbitrary and "unofficial", and I'm not sure how I settled on it. (Maybe it was done in some textbook I once used.)

Fred Lemmerhirt

----- Original Message -----
From: "Bill Nettles" <>
Sent: Monday, June 2, 2014 12:42:09 PM GMT -06:00 US/Canada Central
Subject: [Phys-L] superposition and interference

When discussing waves in introductory university physics is there an important distinction to be made between the terms "superposition" and "interference?"

It seems to me that superposition is a principle concept and interference is a descriptor of the phenomenon when superposition happens, but there's not a big reason to draw any kind of "line" between the two. Waves superpose; waves interfere.

Maybe superposition is the more general of the two terms and is something which is always happening. Would one reserve "interference" to a pseudo-steady-state behavior that we see in double-slits, diffraction gratings, and standing waves?

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