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School-college Physics Notes: Waves 3. TRANSVERSE WAVES

Introduction to waves: 3. The technical description and properties of a TRANSVERSE WAVE, examples and calculations using the wave equation

Doc Brown's Physics exam study revision notes

See also Part 10 wave calculations

INDEX physics notes: Investigating & introducing properties of waves


3. The technical description and properties of a TRANSVERSE WAVE and equation

The above diagram gives an idea of a transverse wave where the oscillations/vibrations (disturbance) are at 90o to the direction the wave moves.

  • Expressing this another way - the disturbance of the medium is at 90o to the direction the wave is travelling.

    •  Examples of transverse waves:

  • electromagnetic radiation waves, ripples-waves on water, shaking a slinky spring or rope from side to side, earthquake waves of the S-waves type.

  • You should know, understand and be able to use the terms frequency, wavelength and amplitude of a wave in terms of this diagram of a transverse wave.

    • The top of the wave form is called a crest and the bottom of the wave is called the trough see wave diagram above.

    • The wave amplitude = distance from the baseline of zero displacement (rest position) to the point of maximum displacement (to top of crest or to bottom of trough) - see wave diagram above.

      • The greater the amplitude, the greater the amount of energy the wave transfers.

    • One wavelength (m) = distance of one complete cycle or oscillation/vibration = horizontal distance from any point on the wave until where it begins to repeat = distance between two crests = distance between two troughs etc. - see wave diagram above.

      • The wavelength is sometimes defined as the distance between the same points on two adjacent/neighbouring disturbances. Both these definitions equate to one complete cycle of the wave oscillation-vibration.

      • Wavelength units are usually metres (m) but other units are commonly used e.g. nanometres (nm, 10-9 m).

    • The frequency of a wave (Hz) = number of complete cycles/oscillations per second = number of complete cycles/waves passing a given point per second.

      • Frequency is measured in Hertz. 1 Hertz = 1 oscillation or vibration/s (1 Hz, 1 per sec or 1 s-1).

    • The period of a wave is the time in seconds for one complete cycle to pass a certain point.

      • wave period (s) = 1 frequency (Hz, s-1)

    • Symbols used: v = velocity, f = frequency, λ wavelength

    • Examples of transverse waves

      • Electromagnetic radiation

      • Water waves - here you can observe floating objects bobbing up and down at 90o to the wave direction.

      • Slinky spring - shaken from side to side to send a transverse wave along it.

        • You could shake the slinky spring over a metre ruler (at 90o) and estimate the (i) amplitude and (ii) with another metre ruler alongside the spring, measure the wavelength.

        • You could also measure (iii) the frequency of shaking and from (ii) and (iii) estimate the speed of the slinky spring wave.

        • You could check your estimated speed by observing, with a stopwatch, how long it takes for a wave to travel several metres.

        • They are not very accurate experiments, but a bit of fun!

INDEX notes: Investigating and introducing the properties of waves


Keywords, phrases and learning objectives for waves

Be able to describe and explain with a technical description, the properties and examples of transverse waves.

Be able to do transverse wave calculations using the wave equation formula.

See Part 10. Wave calculations - formulae & how to solve wave questions


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Part 10 wave calculations

INDEX physics notes: Introducing the properties of waves

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INDEX notes: Investigating and introducing the properties of waves

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