Wave Behavior

Determining how waves behave is truly one of the more interesting topics when learning more about physics.

To those who are new to this topic, it is very important to know that waves appear either Transverse or Longitudinal, which are classifications that describe how they vibrate while transferring energy from one place to another.

Longitudinal is where particles vibrate parallel to the direction by which the wave of energy is travelling.

The other wave classification is known as Transverse and it is where particles vibrate perpendicular at 90° to the direction where the energy is travelling.

While it is important to know the classification of waves, studying wave behavior is equally as critical when learning more about the physics of waves.

Determining wave behavior can become a bit more difficult than learning wave type as there are many more classifications of wave behaviors that include Transmission, Reflection, Refraction, Diffraction, Absorption, and Scattering.

Wave Behavior

Waves have up to 5 typical behaviors that allow us to understand how they transfer energy at more advanced level. Reflection occurs when waves bounce off an object.

Soundwaves are a good example as they are reflected by hard flat surfaces that produce echoes that reflect sound. Transmission occurs when waves travel in the same direction through an object.

Absorption and Reflection, on the other hand, are behaviors that go hand-in-hand for light waves and how they are absorbed and reflected.

Refraction is the change in speed when waves pass through sound or light, while Diffraction is how waves distribute energy as the pass-through gaps and barriers. Finally, Scattering is when waves depart from their original path and scatter into multiple directions.

Interesting Facts about Wave Behavior

  • During Transmission, soundwaves produce a delay between the original sound and the echo because the waves have to travel twice as far before they can be heard.
  • In Absorption and Reflection, white objects contain all wavelengths, which make them able to reflect all the light that hits them while absorbing none. Black objects, on the other hand, absorb all the light that hits them, while reflecting none.
  • The color of an object depends on which wavelengths of light it absorbs and which it can reflect.
  • During Refraction, sound and light waves change speeds when passing boundaries such as air and glass. This is because air and glass have different densities that cause waves to change direction.
  • Because of Refraction, objects found under water appear closer than they really are. Water appears shallower than it really is and is the reason why straws in a glass of water appears bent at the surface.
  • During Diffraction, the size of the gaps and barriers dictate how waves re-spread energy.
  • Because of Diffraction, people were able to create loudspeakers such as bullhorns and similar amplifiers.
  • Because of Scattering, white light coming from the sun hits the molecules in Earth’s atmosphere, causing the sky up above to appear blue.

Can waves occupy the same space at the same time? 

It is a fact that 2 solid objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time. Waves are a different matter as they are not matter. Because of this, waves are able to occupy the same space at the same time.

Why do smooth surfaces reflect so well?

Smooth surfaces such as glass or polished metal reflect light excellently. This is why reflections can be seen like a mirror or on a calm body of water such as a pond or lake.

How does the sky appear so blue?

Scattering is the process where waves depart for their expected path and spread out in multiple directions. The sun’s rays produce white light that hits molecules in our atmosphere, which causes short blue wavelengths to scatter all over the sky.

How important is understanding wave behavior?

Science in general allows people to understand the world in a better way. Understanding wave behavior has resulted in people creating megaphones, bull horns, and even noise-reduction headphones as a result of studying wave behavior.