- In mechanical waves, particles oscillate about fixed points
- The direction of oscillations with regards to the direction of wave travel determine what type of wave it is
- A transverse wave is one where the particles oscillate perpendicular to the direction of the wave travel (and energy transfer)
- Transverse waves show areas of crests (peaks) and troughs
Diagram of a transverse wave
- Examples of transverse waves are:
- Electromagnetic waves e.g. radio, visible light, UV
- Vibrations on a guitar string
- These can be shown on a rope
- Transverse waves can be polarised
- A longitudinal wave is one where the particles oscillate parallel to the direction of the wave travel (and energy transfer)
- Longitudinal waves show areas of compressions and rarefactions
Diagram of a longitudinal wave
- Examples of longitudinal waves are:
- Sound waves
- Ultrasound waves
- These can be shown on a slinky spring
- Longitudinal waves cannot be polarised
- You will have learned how to analyse the properties of a wave, such as amplitude and wavelength, in “General Wave Properties”
- The diagram below shows the equivalent of a wavelength on a longitudinal wave
The definition of transverse and longitudinal waves are often asked as exam questions, make sure to remember these definitions by heart!
The graph shows how the displacement of a particle in a wave varies with time.
Which statement is correct?
A. The wave has an amplitude of 2 cm and could be either transverse or longitudinal.
B. The wave has an amplitude of 2 cm and has a time period of 6 s.
C. The wave has an amplitude of 4 cm and has a time period of 4 s.
D. The wave has an amplitude of 4 cm and must be transverse.
Both transverse and longitudinal waves can look like transverse waves when plotted on a graph – make sure you read the question and look for whether the wave travels parallel (longitudinal) or perpendicular (transverse) to the direction of travel to confirm which type of wave it is.