MCAT Content / Periodic Motion / Transverse And Longitudinal Waves Wavelength And Propagation Speed

### Transverse and longitudinal waves: wavelength and propagation speed

Topic: Periodic Motion

In transverse wave, particles oscillate up and down, perpendicular to direction of propagation. Longitudinal waves are waves in which the displacement of the particles is in the direction of propagation of the wave.

Light (EM) wave is transverse wave while sound wave is longitudinal wave.

The wavelength λ of a wave is the distance between repetitions of the shape of the wave, this distance is measured parallel to the travel direction of the wave.

The propagation speed of wave can be measured as one wavelength over the period (distance of to repeat the cycle over the time to complete that cycle).

v = λ/T  = λf

At sea level, at normal atmospheric pressure; speed of sound is 344 m/s. While the speed of light in vacuum is c = 3x(10^8) m/s.

However, note that the speed of a wave along a stretched string depends only on the tension and density of the string and not on the frequency of the wave.

v =√T/ρ

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Key Points

• The wavelength λ of a wave is the distance between repetitions.

• The propagation speed is one wavelength over the period.

Key Terms

Transverse wave: oscillates up and down, perpendicular to direction of propagation.

Longitudinal waves: are waves in which the displacement of the medium is in the direction of propagation of the wave.

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