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  • Define sound and hearing.
  • Describe sound as a longitudinal wave.
Photograph of a glass, half of which is shattered into small pieces by a high-intensity sound wave. The tiny glass bits are shattered all over the place.
This glass has been shattered by a high-intensity sound wave of the same frequency as the resonant frequency of the glass. While the sound is not visible, the effects of the sound prove its existence. (credit: ||read||, Flickr)

Sound can be used as a familiar illustration of waves. Because hearing is one of our most important senses, it is interesting to see how the physical properties of sound correspond to our perceptions of it. Hearing is the perception of sound, just as vision is the perception of visible light. But sound has important applications beyond hearing. Ultrasound, for example, is not heard but can be employed to form medical images and is also used in treatment.

The physical phenomenon of sound    is defined to be a disturbance of matter that is transmitted from its source outward. Sound is a wave. On the atomic scale, it is a disturbance of atoms that is far more ordered than their thermal motions. In many instances, sound is a periodic wave, and the atoms undergo simple harmonic motion. In this text, we shall explore such periodic sound waves.

A vibrating string produces a sound wave as illustrated in [link] , [link] , and [link] . As the string oscillates back and forth, it transfers energy to the air, mostly as thermal energy created by turbulence. But a small part of the string’s energy goes into compressing and expanding the surrounding air, creating slightly higher and lower local pressures. These compressions (high pressure regions) and rarefactions (low pressure regions) move out as longitudinal pressure waves having the same frequency as the string—they are the disturbance that is a sound wave. (Sound waves in air and most fluids are longitudinal, because fluids have almost no shear strength. In solids, sound waves can be both transverse and longitudinal.) [link] shows a graph of gauge pressure versus distance from the vibrating string.

Diagram of a vibrating string held fixed at both ends. The string is shown to move toward the right. The compression and rarefaction of air is shown as bold and dotted line arcs around the string.
A vibrating string moving to the right compresses the air in front of it and expands the air behind it.
Diagram of a vibrating string held fixed at both the ends. The string is shown to move toward the left. The compression and rarefaction of air is shown as bold and dotted arcs around the string.
As the string moves to the left, it creates another compression and rarefaction as the ones on the right move away from the string.
Part a of the diagram shows a vibrating string held fixed at both the ends. The string is shown to vibrate to and fro toward left and right. The compression and rarefaction of air is shown as bold and dotted arcs around the string. Part b shows a graph of pressure versus distance from the source. The pressure is along the y axis and the distance is along the x axis. The graph is a sine wave along the x axis.
After many vibrations, there are a series of compressions and rarefactions moving out from the string as a sound wave. The graph shows gauge pressure versus distance from the source. Pressures vary only slightly from atmospheric for ordinary sounds.

The amplitude of a sound wave decreases with distance from its source, because the energy of the wave is spread over a larger and larger area. But it is also absorbed by objects, such as the eardrum in [link] , and converted to thermal energy by the viscosity of air. In addition, during each compression a little heat transfers to the air and during each rarefaction even less heat transfers from the air, so that the heat transfer reduces the organized disturbance into random thermal motions. (These processes can be viewed as a manifestation of the second law of thermodynamics presented in Introduction to the Second Law of Thermodynamics: Heat Engines and Their Efficiency .) Whether the heat transfer from compression to rarefaction is significant depends on how far apart they are—that is, it depends on wavelength. Wavelength, frequency, amplitude, and speed of propagation are important for sound, as they are for all waves.

Diagram of an ear is shown with sound wave compressions and rare factions entering the ear as semicircular arcs of bold and dotted lines. The cross section of ear drum marked as A is shown to vibrate to and fro with a force F equals P times A.
Sound wave compressions and rarefactions travel up the ear canal and force the eardrum to vibrate. There is a net force on the eardrum, since the sound wave pressures differ from the atmospheric pressure found behind the eardrum. A complicated mechanism converts the vibrations to nerve impulses, which are perceived by the person.

Phet explorations: wave interference

Make waves with a dripping faucet, audio speaker, or laser! Add a second source or a pair of slits to create an interference pattern.

Make waves with a dripping faucet, audio speaker, or laser! Add a second source or a pair of slits to create an interference pattern.
Wave Interference

Section summary

  • Sound is a disturbance of matter that is transmitted from its source outward.
  • Sound is one type of wave.
  • Hearing is the perception of sound.

Questions & Answers

kinetic functional force
Moyagabo Reply
what is a principal wave?
Haider Reply
A wave the movement of particles on rest position transferring energy from one place to another
Gabche
not wave. i need to know principal wave or waves.
Haider
principle wave is a superposition of wave when two or more waves meet at a point , whose amplitude is the algebraic sum of the amplitude of the waves
arshad
kindly define principal wave not principle wave (principle of super position) if u can understand my question
Haider
what is a model?
Ella Reply
hi
Muhanned
why are electros emitted only when the frequency of the incident radiation is greater than a certain value
ANSELEM Reply
b/c u have to know that for emission of electron need specific amount of energy which are gain by electron for emission . if incident rays have that amount of energy electron can be emitted, otherwise no way.
Nazir
search photoelectric effect on Google
Nazir
what is ohm's law
Pamilerin Reply
states that electric current in a given metallic conductor is directly proportional to the potential difference applied between its end, provided that the temperature of the conductor and other physical factors such as length and cross-sectional area remains constant. mathematically V=IR
ANIEFIOK
hi
Gundala
A body travelling at a velocity of 30ms^-1 in a straight line is brought to rest by application of brakes. if it covers a distance of 100m during this period, find the retardation.
Pamilerin Reply
just use v^2-u^2=2as
Gundala
how often does electrolyte emits?
alhassan
just use +€^3.7°√π%-4¢•∆¥%
v^2-u^2=2as v=0,u=30,s=100 -30^2=2a*100 -900=200a a=-900/200 a=-4.5m/s^2
akinyemi
what is distribution of trade
Grace Reply
what's acceleration
Joshua Reply
The change in position of an object with respect to time
Mfizi
Acceleration is velocity all over time
Pamilerin
hi
Stephen
It's not It's the change of velocity relative to time
Laura
Velocity is the change of position relative to time
Laura
acceleration it is the rate of change in velocity with time
Stephen
acceleration is change in velocity per rate of time
Noara
what is ohm's law
Stephen
Ohm's law is related to resistance by which volatge is the multiplication of current and resistance ( U=RI)
Laura
acceleration is the rate of change. of displacement with time.
Radical
the rate of change of velocity is called acceleration
Asma
how i don understand
Willam Reply
how do I access the Multiple Choice Questions? the button never works and the essay one doesn't either
Savannah Reply
How do you determine the magnitude of force
Peace Reply
mass × acceleration OR Work done ÷ distance
Seema
Which eye defect is corrected by a lens having different curvatures in two perpendicular directions?
Valentina Reply
acute astigmatism?
the difference between virtual work and virtual displacement
Noman Reply
How do you calculate uncertainties
Ancilla Reply
What is Elasticity
Salim Reply
the property of a body to regain it's original shape is called elasticity. or. the property of a body which can be stretch is called elasticity.
Nazir
Practice Key Terms 2

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Source:  OpenStax, College physics. OpenStax CNX. Jul 27, 2015 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11406/1.9
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