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Waves

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    239
  • hokusai
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Figure f shows a series of water waves before it has reached a rubber duck (left), having just passed the duck (middle) and having progressed about a meter beyond the duck (right). The duck bobs around its initial position, but is not carried along with the wave. This shows that the water itself does not flow outward with the wave. If it did, we could empty one end of a swimming pool simply by kicking up waves! We must distinguish between the motion of the medium (water in this case) and the motion of the wave pattern through the medium. The medium vibrates; the wave progresses through space.

    self-check:

    ribbon-on-spring

    g / As the wave pulse goes by, the ribbon tied to the spring is not carried along. The motion of the wave pattern is to the right, but the medium (spring) is moving up and down, not to the right.

    In figure g, you can detect the side-to-side motion of the spring because the spring appears blurry. At a certain instant, represented by a single photo, how would you describe the motion of the different parts of the spring? Other than the flat parts, do any parts of the spring have zero velocity?

    Example 2: Worm in Motion

    The worm in the figure is moving to the right. The wave pattern, a pulse consisting of a compressed area of its body, moves to the left. In other words, the motion of the wave pattern is in the opposite direction compared to the motion of the medium.

    worm

    Example 3: Sufing

    The incorrect belief that the medium moves with the wave is often reinforced by garbled secondhand knowledge of surfing. Anyone who has actually surfed knows that the front of the board pushes the water to the sides, creating a wake --- the surfer can even drag his hand through the water, as in in figure h. If the water was moving along with the wave and the surfer, this wouldn't happen. The surfer is carried forward because forward is downhill, not because of any forward flow of the water. If the water were flowing forward, then a person floating in the water up to her neck would be carried along just as quickly as someone on a surfboard. In fact, it is even possible to surf down the back side of a wave, although the ride wouldn't last very long because the surfer and the wave would quickly part company.

    surfing-hand-drag

    h / Example 3. The surfer is dragging his hand in the water.

    3. A wave's velocity depends on the medium

    A material object can move with any velocity, and can be sped up or slowed down by a force that increases or decreases its kinetic energy. Not so with waves. The magnitude of a wave's velocity depends on the properties of the medium (and perhaps also on the shape of the wave, for certain types of waves). Sound waves travel at about 340 m/s in air, 1000 m/s in helium. If you kick up water waves in a pool, you will find that kicking harder makes waves that are taller (and therefore carry more energy), not faster. The sound waves from an exploding stick of dynamite carry a lot of energy, but are no faster than any other waves. In the following section we will give an example of the physical relationship between the wave speed and the properties of the medium.

    Example 4: Breaking waves

    The velocity of water waves increases with depth. The crest of a wave travels faster than the trough, and this can cause the wave to break.

    breaking-wave

    i / Example 4: a breaking wave.

    Once a wave is created, the only reason its speed will change is if it enters a different medium or if the properties of the medium change. It is not so surprising that a change in medium can slow down a wave, but the reverse can also happen. A sound wave traveling through a helium balloon will slow down when it emerges into the air, but if it enters another balloon it will speed back up again! Similarly, water waves travel more quickly over deeper water, so a wave will slow down as it passes over an underwater ridge, but speed up again as it emerges into deeper water.

    Example 4: Hull Speed

    The speeds of most boats, and of some surface-swimming animals, are limited by the fact that they make a wave due to their motion through the water. The boat in figure j is going at the same speed as its own waves, and can't go any faster. No matter how hard the boat pushes against the water, it can't make the wave move ahead faster and get out of the way. The wave's speed depends only on the medium. Adding energy to the wave doesn't speed it up, it just increases its amplitude.

    hull-speed

    j / Example 5. The boat has run up against a limit on its speed because it can't climb over its own wave. Dolphins get around the problem by leaping out of the water.

    A water wave, unlike many other types of wave, has a speed that depends on its shape: a broader wave moves faster. The shape of the wave made by a boat tends to mold itself to the shape of the boat's hull, so a boat with a longer hull makes a broader wave that moves faster. The maximum speed of a boat whose speed is limited by this effect is therefore closely related to the length of its hull, and the maximum speed is called the hull speed. Sailboats designed for racing are not just long and skinny to make them more streamlined --- they are also long so that their hull speeds will be high.

    Wave patterns

    If the magnitude of a wave's velocity vector is preordained, what about its direction? Waves spread out in all directions from every point on the disturbance that created them. If the disturbance is small, we may consider it as a single point, and in the case of water waves the resulting wave pattern is the familiar circular ripple, k/1. If, on the other hand, we lay a pole on the surface of the water and wiggle it up and down, we create a linear wave pattern, k/2. For a three-dimensional wave such as a sound wave, the analogous patterns would be spherical waves and plane waves, l.

    wave-patterns

    k / Circular and linear wave patterns.

    Infinitely many patterns are possible, but linear or plane waves are often the simplest to analyze, because the velocity vector is in the same direction no matter what part of the wave we look at. Since all the velocity vectors are parallel to one another, the problem is effectively one-dimensional. Throughout this chapter and the next, we will restrict ourselves mainly to wave motion in one dimension, while not hesitating to broaden our horizons when it can be done without too much complication.

    wave-patterns-three-d

    l / Plane and spherical wave patterns.

    Discussion Questions

    • Sketch two positive wave pulses on a string that are overlapping but not right on top of each other, and draw their superposition. Do the same for a positive pulse running into a negative pulse.
    • A traveling wave pulse is moving to the right on a string. Sketch the velocity vectors of the various parts of the string. Now do the same for a pulse moving to the left.
    • In a spherical sound wave spreading out from a point, how would the energy of the wave fall off with distance?

    8.3 Sound and Light Waves

    Sound waves

    The phenomenon of sound is easily found to have all the characteristics we expect from a wave phenomenon:

    • Sound waves obey superposition. Sounds do not knock other sounds out of the way when they collide, and we can hear more than one sound at once if they both reach our ear simultaneously.
    • The medium does not move with the sound. Even standing in front of a titanic speaker playing earsplitting music, we do not feel the slightest breeze.
    • The velocity of sound depends on the medium. Sound travels faster in helium than in air, and faster in water than in helium. Putting more energy into the wave makes it more intense, not faster. For example, you can easily detect an echo when you clap your hands a short distance from a large, flat wall, and the delay of the echo is no shorter for a louder clap.

    Although not all waves have a speed that is independent of the shape of the wave, and this property therefore is irrelevant to our collection of evidence that sound is a wave phenomenon, sound does nevertheless have this property. For instance, the music in a large concert hall or stadium may take on the order of a second to reach someone seated in the nosebleed section, but we do not notice or care, because the delay is the same for every sound. Bass, drums, and vocals all head outward from the stage at 340 m/s, regardless of their differing wave shapes.

    If sound has all the properties we expect from a wave, then what type of wave is it? It must be a vibration of a physical medium such as air, since the speed of sound is different in different media, such as helium or water. Further evidence is that we don't receive sound signals that have come to our planet through outer space. The roars and whooshes of Hollywood's space ships are fun, but scientifically wrong.1

    We can also tell that sound waves consist of compressions and expansions, rather than sideways vibrations like the shimmying of a snake. Only compressional vibrations would be able to cause your eardrums to vibrate in and out. Even for a very loud sound, the compression is extremely weak; the increase or decrease compared to normal atmospheric pressure is no more than a part per million. Our ears are apparently very sensitive receivers!

    Light waves

    Entirely similar observations lead us to believe that light is a wave, although the concept of light as a wave had a long and tortuous history. It is interesting to note that Isaac Newton very influentially advocated a contrary idea about light. The belief that matter was made of atoms was stylish at the time among radical thinkers (although there was no experimental evidence for their existence), and it seemed logical to Newton that light as well should be made of tiny particles, which he called corpuscles (Latin for “small objects”). Newton's triumphs in the science of mechanics, i.e., the study of matter, brought him such great prestige that nobody bothered to question his incorrect theory of light for 150 years. One persuasive proof that light is a wave is that according to Newton's theory, two intersecting beams of light should experience at least some disruption because of collisions between their corpuscles. Even if the corpuscles were extremely small, and collisions therefore very infrequent, at least some dimming should have been measurable. In fact, very delicate experiments have shown that there is no dimming.

    The wave theory of light was entirely successful up until the 20th century, when it was discovered that not all the phenomena of light could be explained with a pure wave theory. It is now believed that both light and matter are made out of tiny chunks which have both wave and particle properties. For now, we will content ourselves with the wave theory of light, which is capable of explaining a great many things, from cameras to rainbows.

    If light is a wave, what is waving? What is the medium that wiggles when a light wave goes by? It isn't air. A vacuum is impenetrable to sound, but light from the stars travels happily through zillions of miles of empty space. Light bulbs have no air inside them, but that doesn't prevent the light waves from leaving the filament. For a long time, physicists assumed that there must be a mysterious medium for light waves, and they called it the aether (not to be confused with the chemical). Supposedly the aether existed everywhere in space, and was immune to vacuum pumps. We now know that, as discussed in chapter 6, light can instead be explained as a wave pattern made up of electrical and magnetic fields.

    8.4 Periodic Waves

    aaah

    m / A graph of pressure versus time for a periodic sound wave, the vowel “ah.”

    shhhh

    n / A similar graph for a non-periodic wave, “sh.”

    strip-chart-recorder

    o / A strip chart recorder.

    wavelength

    p / A water wave profile created by a series of repeating pulses.

    wavelength-change

    s / A water wave traveling into a region with a different depth changes its wavelength.

    Period and frequency of a periodic wave

    You choose a radio station by selecting a certain frequency. We have already defined period and frequency for vibrations, but what do they signify in the case of a wave? We can recycle our previous definition simply by stating it in terms of the vibrations that the wave causes as it passes a receiving instrument at a certain point in space. For a sound wave, this receiver could be an eardrum or a microphone. If the vibrations of the eardrum repeat themselves over and over, i.e., are periodic, then we describe the sound wave that caused them as periodic. Likewise we can define the period and frequency of a wave in terms of the period and frequency of the vibrations it causes. As another example, a periodic water wave would be one that caused a rubber duck to bob in a periodic manner as they passed by it.

    The period of a sound wave correlates with our sensory impression of musical pitch. A high frequency (short period) is a high note. The sounds that really define the musical notes of a song are only the ones that are periodic. It is not possible to sing a non-periodic sound like “sh” with a definite pitch.

    The frequency of a light wave corresponds to color. Violet is the high-frequency end of the rainbow, red the low-frequency end. A color like brown that does not occur in a rainbow is not a periodic light wave. Many phenomena that we do not normally think of as light are actually just forms of light that are invisible because they fall outside the range of frequencies our eyes can detect. Beyond the red end of the visible rainbow, there are infrared and radio waves. Past the violet end, we have ultraviolet, x-rays, and gamma rays.

    Graphs of waves as a function of position

    Some waves, light sound waves, are easy to study by placing a detector at a certain location in space and studying the motion as a function of time. The result is a graph whose horizontal axis is time. With a water wave, on the other hand, it is simpler just to look at the wave directly. This visual snapshot amounts to a graph of the height of the water wave as a function of position. Any wave can be represented in either way.

    An easy way to visualize this is in terms of a strip chart recorder, an obsolescing device consisting of a pen that wiggles back and forth as a roll of paper is fed under it. It can be used to record a person's electrocardiogram, or seismic waves too small to be felt as a noticeable earthquake but detectable by a seismometer. Taking the seismometer as an example, the chart is essentially a record of the ground's wave motion as a function of time, but if the paper was set to feed at the same velocity as the motion of an earthquake wave, it would also be a full-scale representation of the profile of the actual wave pattern itself. Assuming, as is usually the case, that the wave velocity is a constant number regardless of the wave's shape, knowing the wave motion as a function of time is equivalent to knowing it as a function of position.

    Wavelength

    Any wave that is periodic will also display a repeating pattern when graphed as a function of position. The distance spanned by one repetition is referred to as one wavelength. The usual notation for wavelength is λ, the Greek letter lambda. Wavelength is to space as period is to time.

    circular-and-linear-wavelengths

    q / Wavelengths of linear and circular water waves.

    Wave velocity related to frequency and wavelength

    Suppose that we create a repetitive disturbance by kicking the surface of a swimming pool. We are essentially making a series of wave pulses. The wavelength is simply the distance a pulse is able to travel before we make the next pulse. The distance between pulses is λ, and the time between pulses is the period, T, so the speed of the wave is the distance divided by the time,

    v = λ /T .

    This important and useful relationship is more commonly written in terms of the frequency,

    v = f λ .

    Example 6: Wavelength of radio waves

    • The speed of light is 3.0×108 m/s. What is the wavelength of the radio waves emitted by KKJZ, a station whose frequency is 88.1 MHz?
    • Solving for wavelength, we have

    equations

    The size of a radio antenna is closely related to the wavelength of the waves it is intended to receive. The match need not be exact (since after all one antenna can receive more than one wavelength!), but the ordinary “whip” antenna such as a car's is 1/4 of a wavelength. An antenna optimized to receive KKJZ's signal would have a length of 3.4 m/4= 0.85 m.

    ultrasound

    r / Ultrasound, i.e., sound with frequencies higher than the range of human hearing, was used to make this image of a fetus. The resolution of the image is related to the wavelength, since details smaller than about one wavelength cannot be resolved. High resolution therefore requires a short wavelength, corresponding to a high frequency.

    The equation v=f λ defines a fixed relationship between any two of the variables if the other is held fixed. The speed of radio waves in air is almost exactly the same for all wavelengths and frequencies (it is exactly the same if they are in a vacuum), so there is a fixed relationship between their frequency and wavelength. Thus we can say either “Are we on the same wavelength?” or “Are we on the same frequency?”

    A different example is the behavior of a wave that travels from a region where the medium has one set of properties to an area where the medium behaves differently. The frequency is now fixed, because otherwise the two portions of the wave would otherwise get out of step, causing a kink or discontinuity at the boundary, which would be unphysical. (A more careful argument is that a kink or discontinuity would have infinite curvature, and waves tend to flatten out their curvature. An infinite curvature would flatten out infinitely fast, i.e., it could never occur in the first place.) Since the frequency must stay the same, any change in the velocity that results from the new medium must cause a change in wavelength.

    The velocity of water waves depends on the depth of the water, so based on λ =v/f, we see that water waves that move into a region of different depth must change their wavelength, as shown in the figure on the left. This effect can be observed when ocean waves come up to the shore. If the deceleration of the wave pattern is sudden enough, the tip of the wave can curl over, resulting in a breaking wave.

    Homework Problems

    hw-water-wave-pulse

    t / Problem 4.

    1. Many single-celled organisms propel themselves through water with long tails, which they wiggle back and forth. (The most obvious example is the sperm cell.) The frequency of the tail's vibration is typically about 10-15 Hz. To what range of periods does this range of frequencies correspond?

    2. (a) Pendulum 2 has a string twice as long as pendulum 1. If we define x as the distance traveled by the bob along a circle away from the bottom, how does the k of pendulum 2 compare with the k of pendulum 1? Give a numerical ratio. [Hint: the total force on the bob is the same if the angles away from the bottom are the same, but equal angles do not correspond to equal values of x.]

    (b) Based on your answer from part (a), how does the period of pendulum 2 compare with the period of pendulum 1? Give a numerical ratio.

    3. The following is a graph of the height of a water wave as a function of position, at a certain moment in time.

    hw-sine-wave

    Trace this graph onto another piece of paper, and then sketch below it the corresponding graphs that would be obtained if

    (a) the amplitude and frequency were doubled while the velocity remained the same;

    (b) the frequency and velocity were both doubled while the amplitude remained unchanged;

    (c) the wavelength and amplitude were reduced by a factor of three while the velocity was doubled.

    Explain all your answers. [Problem by Arnold Arons.]

    4. (a) The graph shows the height of a water wave pulse as a function of position. Draw a graph of height as a function of time for a specific point on the water. Assume the pulse is traveling to the right.

    (b) Repeat part a, but assume the pulse is traveling to the left.

    (c) Now assume the original graph was of height as a function of time, and draw a graph of height as a function of position, assuming the pulse is traveling to the right.

    (d) Repeat part c, but assume the pulse is traveling to the left.

    Explain all your answers. [Problem by Arnold Arons.]

    5. Suggest a quantitative experiment to look for any deviation from the principle of superposition for surface waves in water. Make it simple and practical.

    6. The musical note middle C has a frequency of 262 Hz. What are its period and wavelength?(answer check available at lightandmatter.com)

    References

    [1] Outer space is not a perfect vacuum, so it is possible for sounds waves to travel through it. However, if we want to create a sound wave, we typically do it by creating vibrations of a physical object, such as the sounding board of a guitar, the reed of a saxophone, or a speaker cone. The lower the density of the surrounding medium, the less efficiently the energy can be converted into sound and carried away. An isolated tuning fork, left to vibrate in interstellar space, would dissipate the energy of its vibration into internal heat at a rate many orders of magnitude greater than the rate of sound emission into the nearly perfect vacuum around it.

    Contributors

    Benjamin Crowell (Fullerton College). Conceptual Physics is copyrighted with a CC-BY-SA license.