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3/1/2017 TheSpeedofaWave

TheSpeedofaWave
TheAnatomyofaWave
FrequencyandPeriodofaWave
EnergyTransportandtheAmplitudeofaWave
TheSpeedofaWave
TheWaveEquation

Awaveisadisturbancethatmovesalongamediumfromoneendtotheother.Ifonewatchesan
oceanwavemovingalongthemedium(theoceanwater),onecanobservethatthecrestofthewaveis
movingfromonelocationtoanotheroveragivenintervaloftime.Thecrestisobserved
to cover
distance.Thespeedofanobjectreferstohowfastanobjectismovingandisusually
expressedasthedistancetraveledpertimeoftravel.Inthecaseofawave,thespeedisthedistance
traveledbyagivenpointonthewave(suchasacrest)inagivenintervaloftime.Inequationform,

Ifthecrestofanoceanwavemovesadistanceof20metersin10seconds,thenthespeedoftheocean
waveis2.0m/s.Ontheotherhand,ifthecrestofanoceanwavemovesadistanceof25metersin10
seconds(thesameamountoftime),thenthespeedofthisoceanwaveis2.5m/s.Thefasterwave
travelsagreaterdistanceinthesameamountoftime.
Sometimesawaveencounterstheendofamediumandthepresenceofadifferentmedium.For
example,awaveintroducedbyapersonintooneendofaslinkywilltravelthroughtheslinkyand
eventuallyreachtheendoftheslinkyandthepresenceofthehandofasecondperson.Onebehavior
thatwavesundergoattheendofamediumisreflection.Thewavewillreflectorbounceoffthe
person'shand.Whenawaveundergoesreflection,itremainswithinthemediumandmerelyreversesits
directionoftravel.Inthecaseofaslinkywave,thedisturbancecanbeseentravelingbacktothe
originalend.Aslinkywavethattravelstotheendofaslinkyandbackhas doubleditsdistance .Thatis,
byreflectingbacktotheoriginallocation,thewavehastraveledadistancethatisequaltotwicethe
lengthoftheslinky.
Reflectionphenomenaarecommonlyobservedwithsoundwaves.When
you letoutaholler
withinacanyon,youoftenheartheechooftheholler.The
soundwavetravelsthroughthemedium(airinthiscase),reflectsoffthe
canyonwallandreturnstoitsorigin(you).Theresultisthatyouheartheecho
(thereflectedsoundwave)ofyourholler.Aclassicphysicsproblemgoeslike
this:

Noahstands170metersawayfromasteepcanyonwall.Heshoutsand
hearstheechoofhisvoiceonesecondlater.Whatisthespeedofthe
wave?

Inthisinstance,thesoundwavetravels340metersin1second,sothespeedofthewaveis340m/s.
Remember,whenthereisareflection,thewave doublesitsdistance
.Inotherwords,thedistance
traveledbythesoundwavein1secondisequivalenttothe170metersdowntothecanyonwallplus
the170metersbackfromthecanyonwall.

VariablesAffectingWaveSpeed
Whatvariablesaffectthespeedatwhichawavetravelsthroughamedium?Does
thefrequencyorwavelengthofthewaveaffectitsspeed?Doestheamplitudeofthe
waveaffectitsspeed?Orareothervariablessuchasthemassdensityofthe
mediumortheelasticityofthemediumresponsibleforaffectingthespeedofthe
wave?Thesequestionsareofteninvestigatedintheformofalabinaphysics
classroom.
Supposeawavegeneratorisusedtoproduceseveralwaveswithinaropeofa
http://www.physicsclassroom.com/class/waves/Lesson2/TheSpeedofaWave 1/2

measurabletension.Thewavelength,frequencyandspeedaredetermined.Thenthefrequencyof
3/1/2017 TheSpeedofaWave

vibrationofthegeneratorischangedtoinvestigatetheeffectoffrequencyuponwavespeed.Finally,
thetensionoftheropeisalteredtoinvestigatetheeffectoftensionuponwavespeed.Sampledatafor
theexperimentareshownbelow.
SpeedofaWaveLabSampleData

Tension Frequency Wavelength Speed
Trial
(N) (Hz) (m) (m/s)
1 2.0 4.05 4.00 16.2
2 2.0 8.03 2.00 16.1
3 2.0 12.30 1.33 16.4
4 2.0 16.2 1.00 16.2
5 2.0 20.2 0.800 16.2
6 5.0 12.8 2.00 25.6
7 5.0 19.3 1.33 25.7
8 5.0 25.5 1.00 25.5

Inthefirstfivetrials,thetensionoftheropewasheldconstantandthefrequencywassystematically
changed.Thedatainrows15ofthetableabovedemonstratethatachangeinthefrequencyofawave
doesnotaffectthespeedofthewave.Thespeedremainedanearconstantvalueofapproximately16.2
m/s.Thesmallvariationsinthevaluesforthespeedweretheresultofexperimentalerror,ratherthana
demonstrationofsomephysicallaw.Thedataconvincinglyshowthatwavefrequencydoesnotaffect
wavespeed.Anincreaseinwavefrequencycausedadecreaseinwavelengthwhilethewavespeed
remainedconstant.
Thelastthreetrialsinvolvedthesameprocedurewithadifferentropetension.Observethatthespeed
ofthewavesinrows68isdistinctlydifferentthanthespeedofthewaveinrows15.Theobvious
causeofthisdifferenceisthealterationofthetensionoftherope.Thespeedofthewaveswas
significantlyhigherathighertensions.Wavestravelthroughtighterropesathigherspeeds.Sowhilethe
frequencydidnotaffectthespeedofthewave,thetensioninthemedium(therope)did.Infact,the
speedofawaveisnotdependentupon(causallyaffectedby)propertiesofthewaveitself.Rather,the
speedofthewaveisdependentuponthepropertiesofthemediumsuchasthetensionoftherope.
Onethemeofthisunithasbeenthat"awaveisadisturbancemovingthroughamedium."Thereare
twodistinctobjectsinthisphrasethe"wave"andthe"medium."Themediumcouldbewater,air,ora
slinky.Thesemediaaredistinguishedbytheirpropertiesthematerialtheyaremadeofandthe
physicalpropertiesofthatmaterialsuchasthedensity,thetemperature,theelasticity,etc.Such
physicalpropertiesdescribethematerialitself,notthewave.Ontheotherhand,wavesare
distinguishedfromeachotherbytheirpropertiesamplitude,wavelength,frequency,etc.These
propertiesdescribethewave,notthematerialthroughwhichthewaveismoving.Thelessonofthelab
activitydescribedaboveisthatwavespeeddependsuponthemediumthroughwhichthewaveis
moving.Onlyanalterationinthepropertiesofthemediumwillcauseachangeinthespeed.

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