Physics Waves

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Characteristics and Nature of Waves

In physics, a wave is a disturbance that travels through space and time, usually accompanied by the transfer of energy. Waves travel and the wave motion transfers energy from one point to another, often with no permanent displacement of the particles of the medium—that is, with little or no associated mass transport. They consist, instead, of oscillations or vibrations around almost fixed locations. For example, a cork on rippling water will bob up and down, staying in about the same place while the wave itself moves onwards. One type of wave is a mechanical wave, which propagates through a medium in which the substance of this medium is deformed. The deformation reverses itself owing to restoring forces resulting from its deformation. For example, sound waves propagate via air molecules bumping into their neighbors. This transfers some energy to these neighbors, which will cause a cascade of collisions between neighbouring molecules. When air molecules collide with their neighbors, they also bounce away from them (restoring force). This keeps the molecules from continuing to travel in the direction of the wave. Another type of wave can travel through a vacuum, e.g. electromagnetic radiation (including visible light, ultraviolet radiation, infrared radiation, gamma rays, X-rays, and radio waves). This type of wave consists of periodic oscillations in electrical and magnetic fields. A main distinction can be made between transverse and longitudinal waves. Transverse waves occur when a disturbance sends waves perpendicular (at right angles) to the original wave. Longitudinal waves occur when a disturbance sends waves in the same direction as the original wave. Waves are described by a wave equation which sets out how the disturbance proceeds over time. The mathematical form of this equation varies depending on the type of wave. Waves normally move in in a straight line (i.e. rectilinearly) through a transmission medium. Such...
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