oPhysics: Interactive Physics Simulations

Wave Characteristics & Terminology

Waves have characteristics closely related to the characteristics of the particles oscillations. The period, frequency, and amplitude of a wave are defined the same as the period, frequency, and amplitude of the particle oscillations. Recall those definitions:

Period - The time for one complete cycle. (SI unit: seconds)

Frequency - The number of cycles per unit time. (SI unit: seconds-1 or Hz)

Amplitude - The maximum displacement from the equilibrium position. (SI unit: meters)

Another important wave characteristic is wavelength:

Wavelength - The distance from one crest to the next (or between any two adjacent points in the same state of motion). (SI unit: meters)

Use the GeoGebra simulation below to explore some of the characteristics of transverse and longitudinal waves. Adjust the Amplitude and Frequency sliders and watch how the waves are affected. Press the "Run" button to animate the wave motion. Notice that the entire transverse wave has a singular line of equilibrium, while in the longitudinal wave, each particle of the medium has its own equilibrium position.

Two very important wave concepts:

The speed of a wave depends on the medium through which it is traveling, not on its frequency or wavelength.

The frequency of a wave is determined by the source producing the wave - it does not depend on the medium through which the wave is traveling.

The wavelength of a wave depends on both the speed and the frequency of the wave:

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