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By the end of this section, you will be able to:
  • Describe the basic characteristics of wave motion
  • Define the terms wavelength, amplitude, period, frequency, and wave speed
  • Explain the difference between longitudinal and transverse waves, and give examples of each type
  • List the different types of waves

We saw in Oscillations that oscillatory motion is an important type of behavior that can be used to model a wide range of physical phenomena. Oscillatory motion is also important because oscillations can generate waves, which are of fundamental importance in physics. Many of the terms and equations we studied in the chapter on oscillations apply equally well to wave motion ( [link] ).

Photograph of an ocean wave.
An ocean wave is probably the first picture that comes to mind when you hear the word “wave.” Although this breaking wave, and ocean waves in general, have apparent similarities to the basic wave characteristics we will discuss, the mechanisms driving ocean waves are highly complex and beyond the scope of this chapter. It may seem natural, and even advantageous, to apply the concepts in this chapter to ocean waves, but ocean waves are nonlinear, and the simple models presented in this chapter do not fully explain them. (credit: Steve Jurvetson)

Types of waves

A wave    is a disturbance that propagates, or moves from the place it was created. There are three basic types of waves: mechanical waves, electromagnetic waves, and matter waves.

Basic mechanical wave     s are governed by Newton’s laws and require a medium. A medium is the substance a mechanical waves propagates through, and the medium produces an elastic restoring force when it is deformed. Mechanical waves transfer energy and momentum, without transferring mass. Some examples of mechanical waves are water waves, sound waves, and seismic waves. The medium for water waves is water; for sound waves, the medium is usually air. (Sound waves can travel in other media as well; we will look at that in more detail in Sound .) For surface water waves, the disturbance occurs on the surface of the water, perhaps created by a rock thrown into a pond or by a swimmer splashing the surface repeatedly. For sound waves, the disturbance is a change in air pressure, perhaps created by the oscillating cone inside a speaker or a vibrating tuning fork. In both cases, the disturbance is the oscillation of the molecules of the fluid. In mechanical waves, energy and momentum transfer with the motion of the wave, whereas the mass oscillates around an equilibrium point. (We discuss this in Energy and Power of a Wave .) Earthquakes generate seismic waves from several types of disturbances, including the disturbance of Earth’s surface and pressure disturbances under the surface. Seismic waves travel through the solids and liquids that form Earth. In this chapter, we focus on mechanical waves.

Electromagnetic waves are associated with oscillations in electric and magnetic fields and do not require a medium. Examples include gamma rays, X-rays, ultraviolet waves, visible light, infrared waves, microwaves, and radio waves. Electromagnetic waves can travel through a vacuum at the speed of light, v = c = 2.99792458 × 10 8 m/s . For example, light from distant stars travels through the vacuum of space and reaches Earth. Electromagnetic waves have some characteristics that are similar to mechanical waves; they are covered in more detail in Electromagnetic Waves .

Questions & Answers

Suppose the master cylinder in a hydraulic system is at a greater height than the cylinder it is controlling. Explain how this will affect the force produced at the cylinder that is being controlled.
Louise Reply
Why is popo less than atmospheric? Why is popo greater than pipi?
The old rubber boot shown below has two leaks. To what maximum height can the water squirt from Leak 1? How does the velocity of water emerging from Leak 2 differ from that of Leak 1? Explain your responses in terms of energy.
David rolled down the window on his car while driving on the freeway. An empty plastic bag on the floor promptly flew out the window. Explain why.
Louise Reply
the pressure differential exerted a force on the bag greater than the gravitational force holding it on the floor.
what is angular velocity
Sthandazile Reply
The rate of change in angular displacement is defined as angular velocity.
a length of copper wire was measured to be 50m with an uncertainty of 1cm, the thickness of the wire was measured to be 1mm with an uncertainty of 0.01mm, using a micrometer screw gauge, calculate the of copper wire used
Nicole Reply
What is the answer please
If centripetal force is directed towards the center,why do you feel that you're thrown away from the center as a car goes around a curve? Explain
Maira Reply
if there is a centripetal force it means that there's also a centripetal acceleration, getting back to your question, just imagine what happens if you pull out of a car when it's quickly moving or when you try to stop when you are running fast, anyway, we notice that there's always a certain force..
... that tends to fight for its previous direction when you try to attribute to it an opposite one ou try to stop it.The same thing also happens whe a car goes around a curve, the car it self is designed to a"straight line"(look at the position of its tyres, mainly the back side ones), so...
... whenever it goes around a curve, it tends to throw away its the occupiers, it's given to the fact that it must interrupt its initial direction and take a new one.
Which kind of wave does wind form
Matthias Reply
calculate the distance you will travel if you mantain an average speed of 10N m/s for 40 second
Abdulai Reply
hw to calculate the momentum of the 2000.0 elephant change hunter at a speed of 7.50 m/s
Kingsley Reply
how many cm makes 1 inches
Hassan Reply
how do we convert from m/s to km/hr
Toni Reply
When paddling a canoe upstream, it is wisest to travel as near to the shore as possible. When canoeing downstream, it may be best to stay near the middle. Explain why?
SANA Reply
Explain why polarization does not occur in sound
one ship sailing east with a speed of 7.5m/s passes a certain point at 8am and a second ship sailing north at the same speed passed the same point at 9.30am at what distance are they closet together and what is the distance between them then
Kuber Reply
density of a subtance is given as 360g/cm,put it in it s.i unit form
Linda Reply
if m2 is twice of m1. find the ration of kinetic energy in COM system to lab system of elastic collision
Raman Reply
What is a volt equal to?
Clifton Reply
Practice Key Terms 7

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Source:  OpenStax, University physics volume 1. OpenStax CNX. Sep 19, 2016 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col12031/1.5
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