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This chapter forms the basis of the discussion into mechanical waves. Waves are all around us, even though most of us are not aware of it. The most common waves are waves in the sea, but waves can be created in any container of water, ranging from an ocean to a tea-cup. Waves do not only occur in water, they occur in any kind of medium. Earthquakes generate waves that travel through the rock of the Earth. When your friend speaks to you he produces sound waves that travel through the air to your ears. Light is made up of electromagnetic waves. A wave is simply moving energy.

What is a medium ?

In this chapter, as well as in the following chapters, we will speak about waves moving in a medium. A medium is just the substance or material through which waves move. In other words the medium carries the wave from one place to another. The medium does not create the wave and the medium is not the wave. Therefore the medium does not travel with the wave as the wave propagates through it. Air is a medium for sound waves, water is a medium for water waves and rock is a medium for earthquakes (which are also a type of wave). Air, water and rock are therefore examples of media (media is the plural of medium).


A medium is the substance or material in which a wave will move.

In each medium, the atoms that make up the medium are moved temporarily from their rest position. In order for a wave to travel, the different parts of the medium must be able to interact with each other.

What is a pulse ?

Investigation : observation of pulses

Take a heavy rope. Have two people hold the rope stretched out horizontally. Flick the rope at one end only once.

What happens to the disturbance that you created in the rope? Does it stay at the place where it was created or does it move down the length of the rope?

In the activity, we created a pulse . A pulse is a single disturbance that moves through a medium. In a transverse pulse the displacement of the medium is perpendicular to the direction of motion of the pulse. [link] shows an example of a transverse pulse. In the activity, the rope or spring was held horizontally and the pulse moved the rope up and down. This was an example of a transverse pulse.


A pulse is a single disturbance that moves through a medium.

Transverse Pulse

A pulse where all of the particles disturbed by the pulse move perpendicular (at a right angle) to the direction in which the pulse is moving.

Pulse length and amplitude

The amplitude of a pulse is a measurement of how far the medium is displaced momentarily from a position of rest. The pulse length is a measurement of how long the pulse is. Both these quantities are shown in [link] .


The amplitude of a pulse is a measurement of how far the medium is displaced from rest.

Example of a transverse pulse

The position of rest is the position the medium would be in if it were undisturbed. This is also called the equilibrium position. Sometimes people will use rest and sometimes equilibrium but they will also use to the two in the same discussion to mean the same thing.

Investigation : pulse length and amplitude

The graphs below show the positions of a pulse at different times.

Use your ruler to measure the lengths of a and p . Fill your answers in the table.

Time a p
t = 0  s
t = 1  s
t = 2  s
t = 3  s

What do you notice about the values of a and p ?

In the activity, we found that the values for how high the pulse ( a ) is and how wide the pulse ( p ) is the same at different times. Pulse length and amplitude are two important quantities of a pulse.

Pulse speed

Pulse Speed

Pulse speed is the distance a pulse travels per unit time.

In Motion in one dimension we saw that speed was defined as the distance traveled per unit time. We can use the same definition of speed to calculate how fast a pulse travels. If the pulse travels a distance D in a time t , then the pulse speed v is:

v = D t

A pulse covers a distance of 2 m in 4 s on a heavy rope. Calculate the pulse speed.

  1. We are given:

    • the distance travelled by the pulse: D = 2 m
    • the time taken to travel 2 m : t = 4 s

    We are required to calculate the speed of the pulse.

  2. We can use:

    v = D t

    to calculate the speed of the pulse.

  3. v = D t = 2 m 4 s = 0 , 5 m · s - 1
  4. The pulse speed is 0,5 m · s - 1 .

The pulse speed depends on the properties of the medium and not on the amplitude or pulse length of the pulse.

Pulse speed

  1. A pulse covers a distance of 5 m in 15 s . Calculate the speed of the pulse.
  2. A pulse has a speed of 5 cm · s - 1 . How far does it travel in 2,5 s ?
  3. A pulse has a speed of 0,5 m · s - 1 . How long does it take to cover a distance of 25 cm ?
  4. How long will it take a pulse moving at 0,25 m · s - 1 to travel a distance of 20 m ?
  5. The diagram shows two pulses in the same medium. Which has the higher speed? Explain your answer.

Questions & Answers

are nano particles real
Missy Reply
Hello, if I study Physics teacher in bachelor, can I study Nanotechnology in master?
Lale Reply
no can't
where we get a research paper on Nano chemistry....?
Maira Reply
nanopartical of organic/inorganic / physical chemistry , pdf / thesis / review
what are the products of Nano chemistry?
Maira Reply
There are lots of products of nano chemistry... Like nano coatings.....carbon fiber.. And lots of others..
Even nanotechnology is pretty much all about chemistry... Its the chemistry on quantum or atomic level
no nanotechnology is also a part of physics and maths it requires angle formulas and some pressure regarding concepts
Preparation and Applications of Nanomaterial for Drug Delivery
Hafiz Reply
Application of nanotechnology in medicine
has a lot of application modern world
what is variations in raman spectra for nanomaterials
Jyoti Reply
ya I also want to know the raman spectra
I only see partial conversation and what's the question here!
Crow Reply
what about nanotechnology for water purification
RAW Reply
please someone correct me if I'm wrong but I think one can use nanoparticles, specially silver nanoparticles for water treatment.
yes that's correct
I think
Nasa has use it in the 60's, copper as water purification in the moon travel.
nanocopper obvius
what is the stm
Brian Reply
is there industrial application of fullrenes. What is the method to prepare fullrene on large scale.?
industrial application...? mmm I think on the medical side as drug carrier, but you should go deeper on your research, I may be wrong
How we are making nano material?
what is a peer
What is meant by 'nano scale'?
What is STMs full form?
scanning tunneling microscope
how nano science is used for hydrophobicity
Do u think that Graphene and Fullrene fiber can be used to make Air Plane body structure the lightest and strongest. Rafiq
what is differents between GO and RGO?
what is simplest way to understand the applications of nano robots used to detect the cancer affected cell of human body.? How this robot is carried to required site of body cell.? what will be the carrier material and how can be detected that correct delivery of drug is done Rafiq
analytical skills graphene is prepared to kill any type viruses .
Any one who tell me about Preparation and application of Nanomaterial for drug Delivery
what is Nano technology ?
Bob Reply
write examples of Nano molecule?
The nanotechnology is as new science, to scale nanometric
nanotechnology is the study, desing, synthesis, manipulation and application of materials and functional systems through control of matter at nanoscale
Is there any normative that regulates the use of silver nanoparticles?
Damian Reply
what king of growth are you checking .?
Richard is sitting on his chair and reading a newspaper three (3) meters away from the door
Jeo Reply
The fundamental frequency of a sonometer wire streached by a load of relative density 's'are n¹ and n² when the load is in air and completly immersed in water respectively then the lation n²/na is
Mukesh Reply
Properties of longitudinal waves
Sharoon Reply

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Source:  OpenStax, Siyavula textbooks: grade 10 physical science [caps]. OpenStax CNX. Sep 30, 2011 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11305/1.7
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