Introduction to Waves

To those getting familiar with waves in physics, the most common visual reference that most people are familiar with is that of waves moving across a body of water such as the ocean or a pond.

Another familiar reference to most is that of sound and light, which produce just as much number of waves as that of water.

Light waves are electromagnetic, and they dictate how people are able to see during the day and at night. Sound waves, on the other hand, are how people hear each other.

In addition, radio waves are also electromagnetic and they are how smartphones are able to function transmitting videos, music, and communication.

Surface waves in water showing water ripples

Waves are one of the many ways that energy is constantly distributed in the world. They come in 2 forms: Mechanical and Non-Mechanical. They distribute energy mechanically by travelling through a medium from one place to another place.

A medium is important in the distribution of energy as it is a substance or material that carries waves from point A to point B. Examples of mediums are air particles, which carries sound waves and seismic waves that allow energy to travel through the earth that people stand above.

There is also a Non-Mechanical manner by which waves are able to distribute energy without needing a medium. Examples of these are radio waves and light waves which are electromagnetic; therefore, they do not require a medium to be able to distribute energy.

Interesting Facts about Waves 

  • During the 1860’s, the existence of radio waves was predicted by a man named Clerk Maxwell. His prediction would later be known as Maxwell’s Equation and it explained how radio and light waves were electromagnetic waves travelling through space.
  • Radio waves are not the only type of electromagnetic wave. Other examples include Bluetooth, radar, infrared, microwaves, and x-rays.
  • Earthquakes are known as an S-Wave or secondary wave where individual pieces of the ground move up and down as a wave passes through them. This is known as a Transverse wave because the individual particles are moving perpendicular to the direction of the wave.
  • Wavelength is the term used for defining the length and size of a wave.
  • Frequency is the term used in the measurement of the number of waves that passes by a certain point in a certain amount of time.
  • The most common unit of frequency is known as a Hertz (Hz) and it is the measure of the number of waves that pass by a point in a second.
  • Amplitude is the term that defines the maximum displacement from equilibrium, which is known as the highest point of a wave.
  • Period is the term that defines the time it takes for a complete wave cycle to take place.

What are the classifications of waves?

Waves come in 2 classifications: Mechanical and Electromagnetic. Mechanical waves travel through mediums such as water and sound while Electromagnetic waves travel through electric and magnetic fields such as light.

How are radio waves broadcasted?

Radio waves are broadcasted via different frequencies that include FM radio waves that broadcast between 88MHz and 108MHz, as well AM radio waves that broadcast between 550kHz and 1600kHz.

How are waves formed in the ocean?

Waves are created when the wind blows across the sea, transferring its energy to the water.

How instrumental are waves at sending text messages?

When a person uses a cell phone to send a text, this text message becomes a radio wave that leaves the sender’s smartphone and is sent to a tower that immediately sends the wave to the smartphone of the recipient of the message.