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Physics Notes GCE Study Buddy

Waves are repeated to-and-fro vibrations that transfer energy away from an energy source

Describing wave motion

Term Amplitude, A Description The maximum displacement of the rope from the rest position SI units Metre (m) Metre (m) Hertz (Hz) Second (s) Wavelength, The shortest distance between 2 successive crests or troughs Frequency, f Period, T The number of complete waves produced per second The time taken to produce one complete wave

Wave speed, v The distance travelled by a wave in 1 second Second (s)

Describing wave motion



Types of Waves
Transverse waves
o The vibration of the particles in the medium is perpendicular to the direction in which the wave travels o Eg. water waves, rope waves, all types of electromagnetic waves including light waves, microwaves, X-rays, gamma rays o The highest point reached by a vibrating particle in a transverse wave is called crest or peak while the lowest point is called trough

Longitudinal waves
o The vibration of the particles in the medium is parallel to the direction in which the wave travels o Eg. sound waves o The section in which the vibrating particles in a longitudinal wave are closest together is called compression while the section in which the vibrating particles are furthest apart is called rarefaction

Longitudinal and Transverse waves

Any line or surface over which all the vibrating particles are in the same phase Particles in the same phase have the same speed and are at equal distances from their source In transverse waves, wavefronts are normally lines joining all the peaks at equal distance from their source The distance between successive wavefronts equals a wavelength The direction of travel of a wave is always perpendicular to its wavefronts as indicated by lines drawn perpendicular to the wavefronts.


Wave Equation
Velocity of wave, v = f Example: The speed of light in vacuum is 3 x 108 m/s Calculate the frequency of orange light, given that its wavelength in vacuum is 6 x 107 m. 3 x 108 = f x 6 x 10-7 f = (3 x 108)/(6 x 10-7) = 5 x 1014 Hz

Ripple Tank
The properties of waves in general and water waves in particular are most easily studied in a ripple tank

Reflection of waves
Waves are reflected when an obstacle is placed in their paths All reflected waves obey the law of reflection which states
o The angle of reflection equals the angle of incidence o The incident wave, the reflected wave, and the normal all lie on the same plane

Properties of reflected waves

The reflected wave the same wavelength, frequency, and speed as the incident wave The velocities of the reflected and incident waves are different because they travel in different directions The angle of reflection equal to the angle of incidence

Refraction of waves
Waves are refracted when their speeds are changed The speed of a wave is changed when the wave moves from a dense medium into a less dense medium or from deep water to shallower water If the incident wave is travelling along the normal, it will continue to travel along the normal after entering water of a different depth In all other cases, refraction produces a change in wave direction On entering shallower water, the wave direction bends towards the normal. On entering deeper water, the wave direction bends away from the normal

Refraction of water waves

Refraction of waves
Properties Wavelength Frequency Speed Velocity Direction of travel Shallower to deeper water Increases Unchanged Increases Increases Deeper to shallower water Decreases Unchanged Decreases Decreases

Bends away from normal Bends towards normal

Ripple Tank to show refraction of waves

Production of sound waves by vibrating sources: sound is produced by vibrating sources (eg tuning fork) placed in a medium (solid, liquid, gas) Nature of sound waves
o It is a form of energy that can be transferred from one point to another o It is an example of longitudinal waves consisting of compressions and rarefactions o Compressions are regions where air pressure is slightly higher than he surrounding air pressure o Rarefactions are regions where air pressure is slightly lower than the surrounding air pressure

Sound waves

Range of audible frequency

The range of frequency that a human ear can detect is from 20 Hz to 20,000 Hz

Transmission of sound in a medium

Sound waves require a medium for transmission Sound waves cannot travel through a vacuum

Vacuum jar

Speed of sound in solid, liquid, gas

Medim Speed in m/s

Air (gas)
Water (liquid) Iron (solid)

1500 5000

Speed of sound changes with changes in temperature or humidity

Change in Explanation

Humidity Pressure

Sound travels faster when temperature rises

Sound travels faster when humidity increases A change in pressure does not affect speed of sound

Experiments to determine speed of sound in air

Pistol method
o Observer A and B are positioned at a distance s apart and with a measuring tape, measure and record s. (must be more than 1km) o A fires a starting pistol o B starts the stopwatch on seeing the flash of the pistol and stops the stopwatch when he hears the sound o The time t, is recorded o The speed of sound v can be calculated by Speed = distance / time

For better accuracy, the experiment should be repeated and the average speed of sound can be calculated. The experiment can be repeated by interchanging the positions of A and B so as to minimise the effect of the wind direction.

Experiments to determine speed of sound in air

Echo method
o Observer A and B are positioned at a distance s from the wall and with a measuring tape, measure and record s o A claps two wooden blocks. o On hearing the echo (reflected from the wall), he repeats the clap o B starts the stopwatch and also starts counting from zero till the nth clap. o The time interval tn is recorded o The average time between successive claps is t = tn/n o The speed of sound v can be calculated by speed = distance/time

Reflection of sound
An echo is a reflection of sound Reverberation is the effect of a prolonged sound due to the merging of many echoes Echoes are used in determining the depth of sea and locations of shoals of fish

Electromagnetic spectrum
The entire possible range of electromagnetic waves is called the electromagnetic spectrum

Properties of electromagnetic waves

They are generated by accelerating charged particles They travel at 3 x 108 m/s in vacuum They obey the laws of reflection and refraction They show wave properties such as diffraction and interference They obey the equation v = f They are progressive transverse waves carrying energy in the form of oscillating electrical and magnetic fields vibrating at right angles to one another and to the direction of travel of the waves

Radiation Wavelength Sources /m

Gamma rays 10-15 10-11 Cosmic rays radioactive substances, nuclear changes X-ray tubes: stopping of fast-moving electrons by a heavy metal target

G M tubes with counters, bubble/cloud chambers Photographic film, fluorescent screen

Checking welds, killing cancer cells in radiology, photography X-ray photography, analysis of crystal structure


10-13 10-8


10-8 10-7

Mercury vapor lamps, sun, spark discharges Hot bodies, lasers, fluorescent screens, sun

Fluorescent screens/dyes Photographic film, photodiodes

Forgery detection, sun lamps Chemical spectral analysis, fibre optics

Visible light



10-7 10-3

Warm bodies, sun, fires, furnaces

TV transmitters

Blackened thermometers, thermocouples

Aerials and TV sets Aerials and radio sets

TV remote control, radiant heaters

Communications, entertainment Radio, telescope, radar, communications

VHF and UHF (TV) waves Radio waves

10-4 10-1

10-3 103

Radio transmitters