Wave Physics Glossary and Terms

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Absorption – Absorption occurs when part of the wave energy is removed when the wave encounters the medium.

Amplitude – A measure of the displacement of a wave from its resting position. The higher the amplitude of the wave, the higher its energy.

Coherence – Two waves are said to be coherent when there is a constant phase difference between them.

Wave crest – The wave crest is the highest point of the wave. Opposite the top is the bottom.

Diffraction – Diffraction occurs when a wave is in the same medium, but bends around an obstacle.

Electromagnetic Waves: Electromagnetic waves are waves that travel in a vacuum. They don’t need a vehicle. Light is a type of electromagnetic wave.

Frequency – The frequency of the wave is the number of cycles per second of the wave. Frequency is the inverse of the period.

Intensity – A measure of the intensity of a sound wave equal to power divided by area.

Interference – Interference occurs when one wave comes into contact with another.

Light Waves: Light waves are a special type of electromagnetic waves whose frequencies are in the visible spectrum.

Longitudinal Wave – Longitudinal wave is a wave whose direction is perturbed in the same direction as the direction of wave propagation. Sound waves are longitudinal waves.

Mechanical Waves – A mechanical wave is a wave that has to travel through a type of matter called a medium. Mechanical waves do not travel in a vacuum like in space.

Medium – The medium is the matter through which the wave travels. Cycle – The period of a wave is the time interval between wave crests. It is the inverse of frequency.

Polarization – Polarization occurs when a wave oscillates in a particular direction. Light waves are sometimes polarized by a special polarizing filter.

Reflection: Reflection occurs when a wave bounces off a boundary, changing direction but remaining in the same medium.

Refraction – The change in direction and wavelength as a wave travels from one medium to another.

Refractive Index – The index of refraction is a number that describes how light travels through a particular medium. Different media have different refractive index. The refractive index of a vacuum is defined as 1.

Resonance – Resonance is the tendency of a system to oscillate with a larger amplitude at some frequencies than others.

Rest position – The resting position is the position that the vehicle will take if there is no wave. It is graphed as a line passing through the center of the wave.

Sound waves – Sound waves are mechanical waves caused by vibrations. Sound waves can be heard by our ears.

Velocity – The velocity of a wave is a measure of how fast the wave turbulence travels. The speed may depend on the type of medium the wave travels through.

Standing Wave – A standing wave is a wave that is always in a constant position.

Transverse Wave – A transverse wave is a wave whose direction of propagation is perpendicular to the direction of wave propagation.

Wave – A wave is a roving disturbance propagating through space and matter. Waves transfer energy from one place to another, but it doesn’t matter.

Wavelength – The wavelength of a wave is the distance between two corresponding points on successive wave propagation periods. For example, between two wave crests.

Trough – Trough is the lowest part of the wave. Opposite the trough is the mountainside.