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Spreading of waves around obstacles. It occurs with water waves, sound, electromagnetic waves (seeelectromagnetic radiation), and small moving particles such as atoms, neutrons, and electrons, which show wavelike properties. When a beam of light falls on the edge of an object, it is bent slightly by the contact and causes a blur at the edge of the shadow of the object. Waves of long wavelength are diffracted more than those of short wavelength.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on diffraction, visit Britannica.com.