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Wave Motion

What is a wave?
A wave is a disturbance that travels or propagates and transports energy and momentum without
the transport of matter. The ripples on a pond, the sound we hear, visible light, radio and TV
signals are a few examples of waves. Sound, light and radio waves provide us with an effective
means of transmitting and receiving energy and information.
The ripples on a pond, the sound we hear, visible light, radio and TV signals are a few examples
of waves. Sound, light and radio waves provide us with an effective means of transmitting and
receiving energy and information.

Mechanical waves such as water waves or sound waves require material medium for
their propagation. These waves travel within or on the surface of material with elastic properties.
There must be some mechanism that tends to restore the medium to its normal or equilibrium
state.

Electromagnetic waves, such as light and TV signals, are non-mechanical and can
propagate through vacuum.

1. WAVE CHARACTERISTICS

There are three wave characteristics used to classify mechanical waves:


1. the direction in which individual particles move when a wave passes by,
2. the dimensionality of the wave propagation
3. the particle behavior of the wave in time

1. Particle Motion with Respect to Wave Direction

If we watch a leaf on a pond as a ripple goes by we observe that it does not travel with
the wave; it merely moves up and down at the same position. This fact implies that a wave
transports both energy and momentum without transporting matter.
If the particles of the medium in which the wave is travelling move perpendicular to the
direction of wave propagation, the wave is called transverse.

Fig.(1 a) shows how a small segment of


a string moves as a transverse pulse
passes. As the leading edge of the pulse
reaches it, the segment moves
perpendicular to the strings equilibrium
position. Its displacement reaches a
maximum as the peak of the pulse
passes and then returns to its equilibrium
position after the pulse has moved on.

It is obvious from the Fig.(1 b), that the


particles on the leading edge are moving
upward while those on the trailing edge are
moving downward.

If the particles of the medium move


parallel to the direction of wave
propagation, the wave is said to be
longitudinal. Fig. (2) shows a long and
very elastic spring. When we repeatedly
push and pull on ends of the spring, the
compressions and stretches of the
spring travel along the spring direction.
A particle marked by dot on the spring
moves back and forth, parallel and antiparallel to the direction of the wave
velocity.

1. Wave Dimension

One Dimensional Waves


Wave confined to travel either to the right or left along a straight line are one-dimensional
waves, e.g. wave produced on a string.
Two Dimensional Waves
Waves that propagate over a surface are two-dimensional waves, e.g. vibration of the
surface of a drum head.
Three Dimensional Waves
Three dimensional waves propagate in all directions, e.g. a sound wave.

1. Particle Behaviour in Time

The above two characteristics were related to spatial description of a wave. The third
characteristic describes a wave behaviour in time.
Wave Pulse

If the motion of a particle within a


restoring medium follows a time sequence that
consists of equilibrium (no motion) followed in
time by some type of motion, and finally a return
to equilibrium, the wave is said to consist of a
pulse.
We can generate a transverse wave pulse
on a string by rapidly displacing one end of the
string up and down, but just once as shown in Fig.
( 3 a).
As the displacement pulse travels along the string each particle in the string begins at
rest, experiences a displacement as the pulse passes through it, and then returns to the
equilibrium.

Wave Train

In a wave train the wave travels through the medium, and the mediums particles undergo
periodic motions. If the periodic motions are simple harmonic oscillations, the disturbance is
called a sinusoidal wave train.
One can generate a wave train on a stretched string by continuously moving the end of
the string up and down in simple harmonic motion as shown in Fig.( 3 b). A wave train need not
be sinusoidal; any continuous succession of pulses constitutes a wave train.