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Physics LibreTexts

8.1: Introduction to Waves

We begin our study of waves in this first unit of Physics 7C with an introduction to waves and then a thorough development of the harmonic plane wave model, which we will use extensively to model and understand a wide variety of wave phenomena.

In this section we will familiarize ourselves with waves by concentrating on material waves. These are the disturbances of atoms or molecules of a particular substance. Any sort of ripple that you have seen is a material wave; sound is a material wave. There are other types of waves such as light or matter waves which are not as easy to visualize, and we shall postpone detailed discussion of these waves until later.

One of the distinguishing features of physics is that physicists continually strive for general principles and simple models that can be applied to large classes of phenomena. In our study of wave phenomena we consciously take this approach.  The focus is on the models and their representations, not on any one of an almost unlimited number of individual examples associated with waves (like sound, light, TV and radio waves, microwaves, etc.)  Our goal is to enable you to develop a useful understanding of wave behavior that you can apply to any phenomenon that can be modeled as a wave.