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School Physics Notes: Waves 5. Comparing transverse and longitudinal waves

Introduction to waves: 5. Comparing and contrasting the properties and examples of transverse and longitudinal waves using diagrams

Doc Brown's Physics exam study revision notes

5. Comparing and contrasting examples of transverse and longitudinal waves

• You need to understand that in a transverse wave the oscillations are perpendicular (at 90o) to the direction of energy transfer, but in a longitudinal wave the oscillations are parallel to the direction of energy transfer ie direction of forward wave movement.

• Transverse wave

• Longitudinal wave

• Shaking a slinky spring from side to side produces a transverse wave, as ripples on water and all electromagnetic radiation.

• Pulling and pushing on a slinky spring produces pulses of energy transmitted as a longitudinal wave like a sound wave travelling through a medium ie the 'compressions' and 'rarefactions' are in the same direction as the wave movement.

• When your TV receives the signal its just coded data in the electromagnetic transverse waves, no material substance arrives! Or does it? Can't photons behave like little bullets?

• However, if energy itself wasn't transmitted or no effected could be produced by the TV receiver!

• Similarly, when ripples on water cause floating objects to bob up and down, energy is needed to do this, but neither the floating object or the water itself actually move in the direction of the transverse waves.

• The most dramatic transfer of energy involves , both transverse and longitudinal, yet the effects are transmitted and felt miles from the epicentre and no part of the earth's crust moves in the direction of the seismic waves but it may move violently from side to side, up and down or compressed/decompressed.

• When sound waves vibrate your ear drum no air moves from the TV, person or musical instrument etc., yet energy is transferred through the medium of air, otherwise, what causes your ear drum to vibrate!

The general points and behaviour of waves is discussed above and below are dealt with in more detail on separate pages - see the waves index at the end.

Keywords, phrases and learning objectives for waves

Be able to compare and contrast the properties and examples of transverse waves and longitudinal waves using diagrams to compare their characteristics features.

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