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Physics LibreTexts

16: Waves

In this chapter, we will study the physics of wave motion. We concentrate on mechanical waves, which are disturbances that move through a medium such as air or water. Like simple harmonic motion studied in the preceding chapter, the energy transferred through the medium is proportional to the amplitude squared. Surface water waves in the ocean are transverse waves in which the energy of the wave travels horizontally while the water oscillates up and down due to some restoring force. A buoy is used to convert the awesome power of ocean waves into electricity. The up-and-down motion of the buoy generated as the waves pass is converted into rotational motion that turns a rotor in an electric generator. The generator charges batteries, which are in turn used to provide a consistent energy source for the end user. This model was successfully tested by the US Navy in a project to provide power to coastal security networks and was able to provide an average power of 350 W. The buoy survived the difficult ocean environment, including operation off the New Jersey coast through Hurricane Irene in 2011.

The concepts presented in this chapter will be the foundation for many interesting topics, from the transmission of information to the concepts of quantum mechanics.

Thumbnail:  Surfer at Mavericks, one of the world's premier big wave surfing locations. (Surfer: Andrew Davis).Image used with permission (CC SA-BY 2.0; Shalom Jacobovitz).


  • Samuel J. Ling (Truman State University), Jeff Sanny (Loyola Marymount University), and Bill Moebs with many contributing authors. This work is licensed by OpenStax University Physics under a Creative Commons Attribution License (by 4.0).