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Mechanical Waves 3: Mechanical Waves (Chapter 16)

Phys130, A01 Dr. Robert MacDonald

A mechanical wave is a travelling disturbance in a medium (like water, string, earth, Slinky, etc). Move some part of the medium out of equilibrium, and that motion travels (or propagates) from one place in the medium to another.

Since it took energy to disturb the medium from

equlibrium, that energy propagates with the disturbance. (Different parts of the medium are moving as the wave moves; thats kinetic energy.) Waves on a string are a good basic model to use to explore this.

Waves: Space and Time

Snapshot at time t = 0:

Snapshot at t=1 s of the below wave:

2 m/s

Delta y (mm)

1 0 -1 -2 0 2 4 6 8 10

Delta y (mm)

1 0 -1 -2 0 2 4 6 8 10


x (m)

History of the string at x = 8 m:

2 1 0 -1 -2

x (m)

History at x = 6 m, for a wave travelling right at 1 m/s:

2 1 0 -1 -2

Delta y (mm)

Delta y (mm)

0 1 2 3 4 5

0 1 2 3 4 5

t (s)

t (s)

Snapshot at t=3 s of a wave travelling right at 1 m/s: 2

Delta y (mm)

Snapshot at t=0 s of the below wave:

2 1 0 -1 -2 0 2 4 6 8 10

1 m/s

Delta y

0 -1 -2 0 2 4 6 8 10

t = 3s
x (m)

x (m)

2 1 0 -1 -2

History of the string at x = 2m:

History at x = 4 m, for a wave travelling left at 1 m/s:

2 1 0 -1 -2 0 1 2 3 4 5

Delta y (mm)

t (s)

Delta y (mm)

t (s)

Snapshot of a Longitudinal Wave

Equlibrium position
0 2 4 6 8 10 12

Periodic Waves
Up to now weve been playing with pulses. Any wave with a repeating shape is a periodic wave. You can have square waves, triangular waves, sinusoidal waves, etc. Sinusoidal waves are the most common.

Wave pulse
0 2 4 6 8 10 12

Delta x (cm)

1 0.5 0 -0.5 -1 0 2 4 6 8 10 12

Also the most important: it turns out you can

in simple harmonic motion.

represent any wave as a combination of sinusoidal waves. (This is called Fourier analysis.)

x is displacement from equlibrium

Sinusoidal waves are generated by moving something

x (cm)

Delta y(x, t=0) (mm)

1 0.5 0 -0.5 -1 0 1 2 3 4

v = 200 m/s

Snapshot at t=0 with wavelength halved:

Delta y(x, t=0) (mm)

Snapshot at t=0

1 0.5 0 -0.5 -1 0 1 2 3 4 5

x (m)

x (m)

Delta y(x, t=T/4) (mm)

Delta y(x, t=0) (mm)

Snapshot at t=T/4

1 0.5 0 -0.5 -1 0 1 2 3 4 5

Snapshot at t=0 with frequency f halved but speed unchanged:

1 0.5 0 -0.5 -1 0 1 2 3 4 5

x (m)

x (m)

Snapshot at t=T/2

Delta y(x, t=T/2) (mm)

1 0.5 0 -0.5 -1 0 1 2 3 4 5

x (m)

Longitudinal Waves

Rarefaction (lower density) Compression (higher density)

Rarefaction (lower density)

Rarefaction (lower density)

What Waves Are

A wave is a disturbance from equlibrium, propagating through some medium (like a string). It takes energy to disturb a particle from equlibrium, so energy must be travelling through the medium causing the disturbance.

Compression (higher density)

Compression (higher density)


wavelength ()

Waves transport energy, not matter.

Well be using waves on a string as our basic model.
12 Waves on a String Simulation:

Equlibrium position
0 2



Wave pulse
0 2 4 6 8 10 12

Particle on a String
In a transverse sinusoidal wave, each bit of string is moving vertically in simple harmonic motion. Particles in a uid move back and forth in SHM as well during a longitudinal sinusoidal wave.

Wave Speed
By the time a particle has completed one cycle of SHM (e.g. moved down and back up), the wave has moved forward by one wavelength (). The time it takes for the particle to do this is one period (T). So, since the wave speed v is constant, v = /T or v = f.
Fig. 16.4


Fig. 16.4


Example: Tsunami
An earthquake off the coast of Sumatra on 26 December, 2006, sent a tsunami smashing into southeast Asia. Satellites measured the wavelength to be about 800 km (!), and a period between waves of one hour.

Example: Ultrasound
Ultrasound sound with frequency too high for humans to hear (above about 20 000 Hz) is a useful tool for medical imaging. Send the sound waves into the body, and listen to the echoes off of various tissues and bones etc. The speed of sound in body tissue is typically about 1500 m/s.

What was the wave speed, in km/h and m/s?

To get a clear image, considering the typical size of

what the doctors are looking at, the wavelength of the sound should be about 1 mm or less. What is the minimum frequency they should use?



Describing wave shape

Weve already described the way a particle in SHM moves over time (history graph!) back in the previous chapter: ! y(t) = A cos(t + ).

What about the shape of a wave in space at a given moment (snapshot graph!)? Its still sinusoidal, so we can use cosine (or sine). In time (history graph), we had a phase that looks like t + . A phase like that gave us a nice cosine curve with the right period, and it let us choose t = 0 to be at any point in the cycle. Lets try something similar with position. We cant use since the units are wrong (time, not space), so we have to come up with something else...

Each point on the string (or whatevers waving) is

moving up and down with the same period, but with different phase. One point is at a peak, another at a trough, another moving through the equilibrium position, etc.

In other words, each point on the string has a


different initial phase , so depends on x. We can write this as (x).


So we need to translate a position in space (x) into a phase angle so we can use cosine. If x = is one wavelength from the origin, then x/ is the fraction of a wavelength we are away from the origin. There are 2 radians in one cycle. So 2x/ should give the correct phase! For convenience, dene the wavenumber: This is not the spring constant! y(x) = A cos(kx + 0) 2 Also useful: !v = f = , so v = /k. k 2 So in space, then:

Waves in Time and Space

Now wed like to put it all together, to get a wavefunction that describes the waves behaviour in time and in space. Each bead or bit of string is moving in simple harmonic motion, with a different phase. The phase, in other words, depends on x. So we can describe this by ! y(t) = A cos(t + (x)). If you move over a distance x, the phase will be different by kx = 2x/. Exactly what phase you end up with depends on what phase you had at the origin, just like with time, so we need a phase constant (x=0) = 0. Then ! (x) = 2x/ + 0.

But what about the sign? Should we use y(x, t) = A cos(kx t) or y(x, t) = A cos(kx + t)? Its not obvious! Consider the rst point that starts on axis at t=0 in the diagram to the right. Its phase at this time is 3/2. Increasing the phase would move this bit of string up at rst. But instead, as the wave moves to the right this bit goes down! In order to describe this, we need to use t; this way the phase decreases as time increases.

Fig. 16.4

Going the Other Way

So far weve been describing waves moving to the right (positive x direction). What about waves moving to the left? The behaviour of a bit of string as time proceeds is now just the opposite of what it was before. So we just need to ip the sign on the time-dependent term in our phase i.e. replace t with +t.

So a sinusoidal wave moving to the right can be described by: ! y(x, t) = A cos(kx t + 0)

1 0.5 0 -0.5 -1

graph of cos()

So depending on direction, our wavefunction is: ! y(x, t) = A cos(kx t + 0) ! y(x, t) = A cos(kx + t + 0)

5 6

Sinusoidal wave moving in +x direction. Sinusoidal wave moving in x direction.

This is called a wavefunction.

Phase (theta), radians

increasing phase !


More on Phase
Weve put back the phase constant 0: ! y(x, t) = A cos(kx t + 0) 0 represents the phase at (x, t) = (0, 0). The value (kx t + 0) gives the phase at any point in space and time.

Example: Birds on a String

Two tiny birds are sitting 3.00 m apart on a long, heavy rope. Some joker comes along and starts shaking one end of the rope in SHM, with a frequency of 2.00 Hz and an amplitude of 0.075 m. The speed of the resulting wave is 12.0 m/s. At time t=0 the persons hand is at the top of its motion (maximum positive displacement).

For a crest (y = +A), the phase can be 0, 2, 4, 2. 4, etc. For a trough (y = A), the phase can be , 3, 5, , 3, etc.

What are the amplitude, angular frequency, period,

wavelength, and wave number of the wave? birds?

What is the difference in phase between the two


v = /k (or f) is often called the phase velocity vp.


what waves are. what actually travels along a wave (energy!). how a particle moves as a wave passes through. how the frequency, wavelength, and speed of a wave
are related.

So now you know:

Aside: Partial Derivatives

A partial derivative is the type of derivative you need to use when you have a function of more than one variable, such as the wavefunction y(x, t). It works the same as a regular derivative except you replace d with (a sort of curly d). Its basically a derivative that winks at you ;-) and says, We both know this is a function of x and t, but Ill just pretend its only a function of one of them for now. You take the derivative with respect to, say, x, treating t as just another constant (or vice versa).

how to describe a wave mathematically.



The Wave Equation

Pretty much all waves follow something called the wave equation. (Dont confuse this with the wave function, which is y(x,t) and describes a specic wave!) The wave equation looks like this:
(You dont need this on your formula sheet.)

Vertical displacement of the string at x: Vertical velocity of the string at x:

Its a relationship between the curvature of the wave (at some location, at some time) and the acceleration of the particle in the wave at that same place and time. (Well be using it to nd v (the wave speed) for some specic types of waves.)

These are the same SHM equations of motion we already know, but the initial phase (the phase when t=0) at position x is kx + 0. (Compare with A cos(t + ).) We can also study the shape of the string (or whatevers waving) at some specic snapshot in time, by looking at how the displacement y varies with x...

Slope of the string:

The Wave Equation

Solve both the particle acceleration and the string curvature for y and equate them:

Curvature of the string:

Wave speed, not particle speed!

Now this is interesting... compare to the accelleration: Both are a constant times y. And theyre similar constants: (2/)2 vs (2/T)2.

Remember that wave speed v = /k, so: The Wave Equation


Applying the Wave Equation

To get a wave equation for a particular type of wave, you need these ingredients:

Speed of a Wave on a String

Weve seen that the speed of a wave on a string doesnt depend on the amplitude or the frequency. What does it depend on? More tension pulls the string back to equilibrium faster, so we might expect that to speed up the wave. A heavier string will swing around more slowly, so we might expect that to slow down the wave.
restoring force!

A restoring force (F ). Newtons second law (F = ma). Lots of linearization and simplication (calculus!).


Our purpose: once were done, well be able to read v (the wave speed) directly from the resulting wave equation.

The wave doesnt care about the total mass of the

string, so were probably more interested in the linear mass density (mass per unit length) "how heavy a single bit of string is.


Linear Mass Density

The linear mass density () of a string is a measure of the strings heaviness. Thicker ropes have a higher linear mass density than thinner ropes. Steel cables have a higher linear mass density than nylon climbing ropes. etc. If you know the linear mass density, and you know how long your piece of rope is (L), then you know the mass of that piece of rope: m = L. When you cut up a rope, you change the mass of the piece you have left (less rope!), but you dont change . When you stretch a rope, you change but not m.

Forces on a Bit of String

Consider a bit of string of length x at position x. Its mass is x, and its displacement is y(x, t). The tension in the string pulls on each end of the bit with forces of slightly different magnitudes and directions, since the string is curved.

F2 F2y F1x = F x F1y F1 x


F2x = F

The horizontal components of F1 and F2 must be the same since the bit is not moving horizontally. The vertical components dont quite cancel; something remains to pull the bit back to equilibrium.


Diagram is very exaggerated.

To gure out the vertical components F1y and F2y, remember that the tension F1 and F2 must point along the string at that point.

So the net vertical force on this bit of string is:

F2 F2y F2x = F
m a

Plug this into F = ma:

F2y F1x = F x F1y F2x = F

So the slope of the string x F1x = F tells us the direction of the tension: rise/run = F1y/F or F2y/F. That is: force points down, F1y but slope is up. y = F1y F1 x x F and

y F2y = x x+x F


Rearrange: y x

On the left: thats a derivative!


y x

2y F t2

F1 x x+x

Lets rewrite that to make it a bit clearer. Dene! (S is for Slope :) Then for that last line:

So we have a formula for the way the slope of a tiny bit of string changes as you look at different points along the wave. Lets write that out in full.

But S(x + x)S(x) is just the amount S changes when we change x. In other words, S(x + x) S(x) = S. In the limit where x is very, very small (youre looking at two very close bits of string) then, the denition of a derivative gives us:

Hey, its the Wave Equation! Or very similar, at least; heres what the Wave Equation said: So ! or Speed of a wave on a string. F = tension. = mass per unit length ! (linear mass density).

Wave Speed vs Particle Speed

Be careful when talking about speeds in waves. There are two! The wave is moving along at a constant speed which depends on the tension and linear density of the string. Each particle or bit of the string is moving up and down in simple harmonic motion; its speed is changing all the time. (The formulas for the speed and acceleration of each bit of string are the same simple harmonic motion equations from before.)

Work and Energy in Waves

When we disturb part of a medium (such as a bit of string) from equlibrium in order to generate a wave, were doing work on that part of the system.

Work is a force acting over a distance. Work

transfers energy. into the system.

By doing work on a bit of string, we put energy

When I push a part of the system out of equilibrium, that part pushes on its neighbour doing work on its neighbour. When work is done, energy is transferred. In this way energy propagates through the system.

Power (Propagation of Work)

Consider a point a on a string carrying a wave from left to right. Slope = y

When the bit of string moves up or down, Fy does work on the bit of string to the right of point a.

y F1x = F a


F1x = F

F1y Work is a force acting over a distance. And work transfers energy.

a F1y

y(x,t) = vertical displacement = wavefunction (Any other wavefunction will work, too!)


, or: Fy is negative when slope is positive.


The rate at which energy is transferred into the bit of string to the right of a is called the power (P). Since work = force x distance, we can write power = force x velocity: or:

Rate of energy transfer for a wave on a string.

Power in Sinusoidal Waves

What we just saw made no assumptions on the shape of the wave. It holds for any wave on a string "not just sinusoidal waves, and not even just periodic waves. Lets nd the power in a sinusoidal wavefunction:

We can rewrite this, using v = /k (or rather, k = /v) and v2 = F/ (from the wave equation): becomes

This replaces k with properties of the string, which are usually easier to work with.



Rate of energy transfer for a sinusoidal wave on a string.

Notice that P is proportional to sin2 of something, so everything that contributes to P is positive or zero. Energy ows in the direction of the wave (which weve assumed to be in the +x direction here) or it doesnt ow at all, depending on where (x) and when (t) were looking at the wave.

Average Power
Since the only factor in our equation for power that depends on time is the sin2 function, the time-average of power depends on the average of sin2. Over a whole number of cycles, the average of sin2 is 1/2. Then the average power is given by:

Example: Diana, Duck of Science

Diana, Duck of Science, is studying waves. In the name of Science! she has constructed a very, very long rope so that she can ignore reections. She straps her feet to the free end of the rope, and aps up and down in simple harmonic motion, at a frequency of 2.00 Hz. The amplitude of her motion is 75.0 cm. What is the maximum (instantaneous) power Diana puts into the rope?


f = 2.00 Hz A = 0.0750 m

Very long rope. = 0.250 kg/m. Tension: F = 36.0 N.

(This is not a typo!)

Fig. 15.16



0.250 kg/m 36.0 N

0.0750 m 2(2.00 Hz)

As tenacious and stalwart a duck of Science as Diana is, she eventually tires, and her power output decreases. What is the amplitude of the wave when her average power has decreased by a factor of 100?

Pavg is 1/100th of before this stuff unchanged from before

What is Dianas average power?

how to nd a formula for the wave speed in a given

medium using the wave equation. wavefunction y(x,t)!)

So now you know:

Boundaries and Reections

Waves reect when they hit a boundary. Youve heard echoes, and you saw the reections on the stretched spring in class.

(Dont confuse the wave equation with the what determines the speed of a wave on a string. how to nd the rate of energy propagation (i.e. the
power) carried by a wave on a string.

This is just the conservation of energy; the energy has nowhere to go, so its sent back the way it came.

How exactly they reect depends on the boundary conditions "the nature of the boundary. For the end of a string or spring, the two basic boundary conditions are xed or free.

Fixed: The string is held in place by some support. Free: The string is free to move up and down (but not
back and forth!).
49 50

Fixed End Reections

When the wave reaches the xed end of the string, it pulls on the support (whatever the string is attached to). The support pushes back. If the displacement of that part of the wave was upward, it pushes down, and vice versa. This has the effect of inverting the wave as its sent back along the string. The wave also reverses the front reaches the boundary rst, so it will be sent back the other way rst.

Free End Reections

When the wave reaches the free end of the string, the end goes up or down as the displacement of the wave dictates. (Theres nothing to prevent it from doing so.) The end is up, meaning its displaced from equlibrium, so it gets pulled back by the tension or whatever the restoring force is. This is just the normal behaviour of the wave, so the wave is sent back down the string the way it came, not inverted. The wave is also reversed, as with the xed end and for the same reason.
Fig. 16-18

Fig. 16-18

Principle of Superposition
When two waves overlap (exist in the same place at the same time), we simply add the displacements of each wave at each position to get the combined wave. In other words: y(x, t) = y1(x, t) + y2(x, t).
Principle of Superposition

Note that, even if y1 and y2 are sinusoidal waves, we cant just add the amplitudes!

In general the two waves can have different


amplitudes, frequencies, wavelengths, and phase constants. The result might not even look sinusoidal.
Fig. 16-11

Standing Waves on a String


Fig. 15.23


Standing Waves result from two waves travelling in opposite directions. Nodes are the locations where the string never leaves equlibrium. Antinodes are the locations where the strings amplitude is greatest.

Wavefunction for Standing Waves

The standing wave can be described by a wavefunction just like weve been doing: y(x,t) describes the shape of the strings displacement as a function of time. The standing wave is the sum of two travelling waves "the incident wave and the reection: ! y1(x,t) = A cos(kx t) (incident wave moving right) ! y2(x,t) = A cos(kx + t) (reected wave moving left) The wavefunction for the standing wave is just the sum of these two wavefunctions add the displacement of each wave at each place and time: y(x,t) = y1(x,t) + y2(x,t).

y(x,t) = y1(x,t) + y2(x,t) ! ! = A0 cos(kx t) A0 cos(kx + t) = A0 [cos(kx t) cos(kx + t)]

Note the signs!

Lets look at that wavefunction in detail: ! y(x,t) = A sin(kx) sin(t) The amplitude of the standing wave is A = 2A0, or twice the amplitude of either of the original travelling waves. A snapshot of this wave will be a sinusoidal wave with wavelength =2/k, with an amplitude of A sin(t). In other words, the shape of the wave is always the same. (Peaks dont move, troughs dont move, etc.) Every part of the wave is oscillating in phase (at least between two nodes).

Trigonometric identity: ! cos(a b) = cos a cos b sin a sin b So we have: y(x,t) = A0 [(coskx cost + sinkxsint) ! ! (coskx cost sinkxsint)] y(x,t) = 2A0 sin(kx) sin(t) or: ! y(x,t) = A sin(kx) sin(t)

Denotes opposite signs

A negative amplitude here (sin(t) can be positive

Wavefunction for a standing wave on a string, xed end at x=0.

or negative) just means weve ipped the wave over.


Nodes and Antinodes

We can easily determine the location (and spacing!) of nodes and antinodes from our new wavefunction: ! y(x,t) = Asw sin(kx) sin(t) Nodes (locations where the string doesnt move) occur where sin(kx)=0.

Energy Transport
As an aside, there is no energy transport along a standing wave.

Energy sloshes back and forth between antinodes

up of two travelling waves moving in opposite directions. Each travelling wave carries the same energy, so theres no net energy transport.

This happens when kx = 0, , 2, 3, etc. Then nodes occur at x = 0, /k, 2/k, 3/k, etc.,
or x = 0, /2, , 3/2, etc. (k = 2 ) Antinodes (locations where the string moves the most) occur where sin(kx)=1: kx = /2, 3/2, 5/2, etc. This translates to x = /4, 3/4, 5/4, etc.

and their adjacent nodes, but it doesnt travel along the string.

This makes sense, because a standing wave is made


Useful Case: A Clamped String

The wavefunction weve developed for standing waves, y(x,t) = A sin(kx) sin(t), xes a node at x=0. Now lets consider what happens if you x the string at both ends, like youd nd in a guitar, piano, power line, etc. (Ill refer to this as a clamped string. I made that up, but its convenient for us.) Well start by looking at sinusoidal waves on a clamped string. Well look at more general wave shapes shortly.



Since the string is held in place at both ends, the wave function has nodes at both ends, since a node is any place where the string isnt oscillating. So if the length of the string is L, the wavefunction must have nodes at x = 0 and x = L. (There can be other nodes in between.) Since this requirement has nothing to do with time, we look at the part of the wavefunction that describes the shape of the wave: sin(kx). We need sin(kx) = 0 at x = 0 (which we have automatically) and x = L.

We get this if the phase (kx) at x = L to be n,

where n is some integer.

Standing Wave Wavelengths

So at x = L we have kL = n, or k
Allowed wavelengths for a standing wave on a string with nodes at x=0 and x=L.

Standing Wave Frequencies

The set of possible wavelengths n of the standing waves on a clamped string corresponds to a set of possible standing wave frequencies, of course, denoted fn. where v is the speed of waves on the string. The smallest frequency f1 corresponds to the largest possible wavelength 1=2L: f1 = v/2L.

Any standing wave on a clamped string must have a wavelength that satises this requirement.

Other waves can exist on a clamped string, reecting

back and forth, but they wont be standing waves.

This is called the fundamental frequency.


Other possible frequencies are integer multiples of this: fn = nv/2L = nf1 (2v/2L, 3v/2L, etc).

The various standing wave frequencies are also called harmonics. The fundamental frequency is also called the rst harmonic or fundamental harmonic. The series of frequencies is a harmonic series. Harmonics above the rst are often called overtones, particularly by musicians. The second harmonic is the rst overtone, etc. The string vibrates the air its moving in (and the instrument body its attached to), at the same frequency as the strings motion. So the length of the string, and the wave speed on the string (which depends on tension and string density), determine the possible frequencies we hear.

Example: Guitar Harmonics

On a particular guitar, the speed of transverse waves on one of the strings is 143 m/s, and the distance between the bridge and the nut (i.e. the length of the vibrating part of the string) is 0.488 m. What are the frequency and the wavelength of the fundamental harmonic? If you replace the string with one half as heavy (i.e. half the linear mass density), what happens to f and ? If you gently touch the guitar string at its centre, what is the wavelength of the lowest harmonic that can still vibrate?

Normal Modes
Another way of saying that a system is oscillating with a sinusoidal standing wave is that the system is oscillating in a normal mode. Each particle is moving up and down in SHM at the same frequency, in synch.

A String in Slow Motion

If you have more complex waves, theyll move back

Each standing wave frequency is a normal mode.

and forth across the string, so the individual bits of string move differently depending on where the wave is and they wont necessarily be in SHM.

These get a special name because theyre the natural frequencies of the system, and respond to resonance.

Video from University of Salford (UK).

Stringed Instruments
For strings, weve seen how the wave speed v relates to the tension F and the linear density :

The strings in a piano vary in both length and thickness. The lowest strings are actually wrapped with wire to lower their frequency. Bigger instruments make lower notes. The lower-note strings on a guitar are made differently than the higher notes. (On my guitar the low strings are steel wound with bronze, and the high strings are nylon.) This is particularly important because all the strings are the same length. Strings are tuned by adjusting their tensions. Wind instruments work basically the same way. But thats a story for the next chapter...

Plug this into the formula for the nth harmonic fn to see how the string affects the frequency of the normal modes. For the fundamental (rst) harmonic:
Fundamental frequency for a string xed at both ends.

So you can get a lower note by using a longer string, a heavier string, or a looser string.

what happens to a wave when it reects at a


So now you know:

how to combine waves when they overlap. what causes a standing wave, and how to describe
one mathematically.

how clamping a string at both ends restricts its

possible standing waves to very specic wavelengths and frequencies.