Properties of Waves

If you're a bit confused about different types of waves and the various words used to describe them then you have come to the right place! Waves are a type of energy pathway and are one of the ways how energy can be transferred between energy stores. They do not transport matter, only energy. A wave is essentially an oscillation or a vibration about the rest position, transmitted through a medium or a vacuum. Scientists can define the nature and behaviour of these waves using wave property terms, such as amplitude, frequency, period, and wavelength. This article will help you understand the science behind all of these terms.

Properties of Waves Properties of Waves

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Table of contents
    Frequently Asked Questions about Properties of Waves

    What is wave amplitude?

    The wave amplitude is the maximum displacement between the rest position and the wave's crest (or trough). Wave amplitude can help inform us of how much energy is in a wave.

    What is an example of wave frequency?

    Imagine an electromagnetic (light) wave. An EM wave with a very high frequency would have many full waves passing an arbitrary point per second. It would be either an x-ray or gamma-ray and it acts differently to a low-frequency wave, such as an infrared or radio wave.

    What is wave period?

    A wave period is the time taken for just one full wave to pass a point in space. Waves with shorter periods will have higher frequencies, as more waves can pass through a point every second.

    What is a wavelength?

    One full wavelength is the length of one complete cycle of the wave, typically measured crest-to-crest. It is measured in units of distance or metres.

    What is speed and phase in waves?

    Wave speed is simply the speed a wave crest is travelling at. It can be calculated using the product of the wave's frequency and wavelength. 

    The phase of two waves describes the offset between two waves occupying the same point in space. In-phase waves have peaks and troughs that align completely and constructively interfere. Out-of-phase waves have the peaks of one wave meet the troughs of the second wave, causing destructive interference.

    What are the properties of electromagnetic waves?

    Electromagnetic waves are transverse waves, where the electric and magnetic components of the wave oscillate perpendicular (at a right angle) to its direction of travel. Electromagnetic waves are light waves.

    What are the properties of longitudinal waves?

    Longitudinal waves oscillate parallel (same direction) as the wave's direction of travel 

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Can waves transport matter, energy or both?

    Which type of wave has oscillations act perpendicular to the direction of travel of the wave?

    What wave property is defined as the number of full wave cycles that pass through a point every second?


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