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Properties of Waves

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Sound and Waves

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Lesson Focus

Properties of Waves

Physical Science

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The properties of mechanical waves are explored, including wavelength, frequency, amplitude, and the direction in which the particles in a wave move.

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Now You Know

After completing this tutorial, you will be able to complete the following:

  • Explain that mechanical waves are waves that must travel through matter.
  • Identify some of the main characteristics of waves, such as crest, trough, amplitude, wavelength, and frequency.
  • Describe how particles move in transverse and longitudinal waves.

Everything You'll Have Covered

Waves are all around us. This Activity Object focuses specifically on mechanical waves, which are waves that must travel through matter. The two types of mechanical waves studied in this AO are transverse waves and longitudinal waves.

Below is a list of vocabulary words, which will be necessary to comprehend in order to fully benefit from this Activity Object.

  • wave - A wave is a disturbance that travels through matter or space. All waves carry energy. Mechanical waves are produced by a disturbance that causes molecules to vibrate or move back and forth. The energy of the wave is carried through the vibrating material.
  • matter - Matter is defined as any material substance that has mass, occupies space, and is made up of atoms. This includes air, solids, and liquids.
  • medium - For the purposes of this Activity Object, medium is defined as the matter through which a wave travels.
  • particle - A particle is a very tiny piece of matter through which a wave travels.
  • mechanical wave - A mechanical wave can travel only through matter (air, solid, liquid).
  • Longitudinal wave - For a wave to be considered a longitudinal wave, the particles within the matter through which the wave is traveling move parallel to the direction of the wave. Sound waves are examples.
  • parallel - For the purposes of this Activity Object, parallel is defined as moving in the same direction. Specifically in the case of longitudinal waves, particles move forward and back parallel to the direction of the travelling wave.
  • transverse wave - For a wave to be considered a transverse wave, the particles within the matter or energy (as in electromagnetic waves) move perpendicular to the direction of the wave. Some examples are ocean waves and light waves.
  • perpendicular - For the purposes of this Activity Object, perpendicular is defined as particles moving at 90-degree angles to the direction of the wave. Specifically in the case of transverse waves, where particles being displaced as a wave goes by move up and down along the wave, perpendicular to the direction of the wave.
  • crest - The crest is considered to be any high point on a wave.
  • trough - The trough is considered to be any low point on a wave.
  • amplitude - Amplitude is the distance from the middle of the wave to either the crest or the trough.
  • wavelength - Wavelength is the distance between either two crests or two troughs on a wave.
  • frequency - Frequency measures the number of waves that pass a certain point during a given amount of time. This is usually measured as waves or cycles per second.
  • period - Period is the length of time for one wave to pass through a point. Mathematically, period is the reciprocal of the frequency (and vice-versa). To say this another way, the period divided into one results in the frequency.

Tutorial Details

Approximate Time 25 Minutes
Pre-requisite Concepts basic knowledge of the properties of waves
Course Physical Science
Type of Tutorial Concept Development
Key Vocabulary amplitude, frequency, period