Mechanical Wave Model – Learn

Mechanical waves transfer energy through a substance or material. This substance or material is known as the medium. As energy moves through the medium, the medium itself is not transported from one place to another, rather it oscillates from its normal position. Mechanical waves need a medium to propagate through. They cannot travel through a vacuum.

As particles vibrate they pass on their energy to neighbouring particles. The medium that the wave travels through effects the speed that the wave travels at. The denser the medium, the faster the wave will travel. This is because denser mediums having particles which are closer together, resulting in energy transfers from vibrations occurring faster. For example, sound travels through air at 340\cfrac { m }{ s } and steel at 6100\cfrac { m }{ s } .

Mechanical waves are classified as either transverse or longitudinal waves. To analyse the difference between the two we have to consider the direction the wave is travelling and the direction that the particles of the medium are oscillating.

Transverse waves – The particles oscillate at right angles to the direction that the wave is travelling. Water waves are an example of a transverse wave.

Longitudinal waves – The particles oscillate in the same direction that the wave is travelling. Sound waves are an example of a longitudinal wave.

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