If an X-ray beam is directed at a row of equally spaced atoms, as represented in the
top picture at the left, each atom becomes a source of scattered waves spreading spherically and
reinforce in certain directions to produce the zero-, first-, second-, and higher order diffracted
A row of atoms has infinite rotational symmetry along the axes passing through it.
Therefore in three dimensions those reinforcement directions of different order are
represented with the cones of corresponding order as it is shown in the picture at the bottom left.
Two-dimensional array of equally spaced atoms consequently produces scattered waves which reinforce along the lines of the cross section of two sets of corresponding cones oriented along the coordinate axes. In three-dimensional case the set of the cones oriented along the third coordinate axes causes the reinforcement of scattered waves (constructive interference) to occur at certain locations. Those locations are the points of cross section of all three sets of cones, oriented along three coordinate axes of the crystal.
W. L. Bragg made the assumption that the sheets of planes of atoms in the crystal behave like perfect reflectors for X-rays, so that interference was caused by multiple reflections from these planes in the same manner as a stack of glass plates produces interference by multiple reflection. Let us consider a set of partially reflecting planes spaced at an interval d as in the figure below..
We wish to know the path difference between two reflected rays:
D = LM + MN = 2d sinq
In order to get constructive interference, D must be equal to nl (n is the called the order of interference and is equal to 0, ±1, ±2 etc.). Therefore:
nl = 2d sinq
This is Bragg Law.
On diffraction, part of the energy in the incident beam with wave-vector ki, will be scattered into a beam marked kr in the figure. How does ki differ from kr? It is only the component of ki, perpendicular to the planes AA' and BB' which is changed. The change of wave-vector upon diffraction is perpendicular to the planes and its magnitude for the diffraction of the first order is :
2(2p/l)sinq = 2k sinq = 2p/d
Where wave-vector k = 2p/l, by definition.
Term 2p/d is equal to the magnitude of the reciprocal lattice vector. Therefore in the X-ray diffraction experiment where we control the magnitude and the direction of incident wave-vector we can directly map the reciprocal lattice of the crystal.