Perhaps the most fundamental task associated with Fourier optics is describing the evolution of an optical field as it propagates from one location to another. The phenomenon of diffraction underlies the behavior of propagating waves. Extensive theory developed for diffraction provides the basis for modeling optical propagation on the computer. This chapter is essentially a summary of scalar diffraction theory with a listing of the expressions commonly used today to describe optical diffraction of monochromatic light. The presentation closely follows the diffraction development by Goodman. More details can be found in that reference, as well as others. This chapter sets the stage for the computer methods of simulating optical propagation described in Chapter 5.
4.1 Scalar Diffraction
Diffraction refers to the behavior of an optical wave when its lateral extent is confined; for example, by an aperture. It accounts for the fact that light rays do not follow strictly rectilinear paths when the wave is disturbed on its boundaries. In our everyday experience we rarely notice diffractive effects of light. The effects of reflection (from a mirror), or refraction (due to a lens) are much more obvious. In fact, the effects of diffraction become most apparent when the confinement size is on the order of the wavelength of the radiation. Nevertheless, diffraction plays a role in many optical applications and it is a critical consideration for applications involving high resolution, such as astronomical imaging, or long propagation distances such as laser radar, and in applications involving small structures such as photolithographic processes.
The propagation behavior of an optical wave is fundamentally governed by Maxwell's equations. In general, coupling exists between the wave's electric field E with components (Ex, Ey, Ez) and its magnetic field H with components(Hx, Hy, Hz). There is also coupling between the individual components of the electric field, as well as between the magnetic components.