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Module 2 in the Syllabus

Waves Cards
Chapter from the Wisebridge Learning System for Physics

Waves Concepts
Concept chapter for Waves in PDF format

Waves Practice Items
Problem set for Waves in PDF format

Answer Key
Answers and explanations

Waves Images
Image gallery for study with links to larger teaching JPEGs for classroom presentation

Question Drill for Waves
Conceptual Vocabulary Self-Test

Basic Terms Crossword Puzzle

Basic Puzzle Solution

Overview of Waves
A wave is a disturbance traveling through a medium, a function varying both in time and position. Mechanical waves propagate by virtue of the elastic and inertial properties of their medium. Light is a form of wave which propagates by virtue of the electric and magnetic properties of space. Keep in mind that as a wave passes, it is energy that is moving. After the wave has passed, displacements in the medium return to zero.

Waves on the MCAT
In one form or another, the topic of Waves comes up on nearly every MCAT. There are usually going to be a few uncomplicated waves problems. The test-writers will make sure you know how to move between wavelength, wave speed, and frequency, for example. Usually these simple questions are nested within a discussion of a more advanced scenario from wave optics or modern physics, for example. Occassionaly, one might run into a waves passage that represents a more advanced take on a familiar topic, such as two dimensional standing waves on a drumhead or a complex seismic wave. With waves as with most topics,the MCAT likes to give you unfamiliar, difficult-seeming phenomena and then ask questions which are pretty easy if you know the fundamentals.

Conceptual Vocabulary
WaveA wave is a mode of energy transfer from one place to another, often with little or no permanent displacement of the particles of the medium, but through oscillations around nearly fixed positions.
Transverse waveA transverse wave is a wave that causes vibration in the medium in a perpendicular direction to its own motion.
Longitudinal waveLongitudinal waves are waves that have vibrations along or parallel to their direction of travel.
FrequencyFrequency is the measurement of the number of occurrences of a repeated event per unit of time.
SoundSound is a disturbance consisting of vibrations traveling through matter as a longitudinal wave.
WavelengthWavelength is the distance between repeating units of a propagating wave of a given frequency.
Electromagnetic radiationElectromagnetic radiation, or light, is a self-propagating wave in space with electric and magnetic components.
Standing waveA standing or stationary wave is a wave that remains in a constant position.
CrestA crest is the point on a wave with the greatest positive value or upward displacement in a cycle.
ReflectionReflection is the change in direction of a wave front at an interface between two dissimilar media so that the wave front returns into the medium from which it originated.
RefractionRefraction is the change in direction of a wave due to a change in its speed when a wave passes from one medium to another.
InterferenceInterference is the superposition of two or more waves that results in a new wave pattern.
AcousticsAcoustics is the branch of physics concerned with the study of sound
PhaseThe phase of an oscillation or wave is the fraction of a complete cycle corresponding to an offset in the displacement from a specified reference point at time t = 0.
Speed of soundThe speed of sound describes how much distance a sound wave travels in a given amount of time.
DecibelThe decibel is a logarithmic unit of measurement that expresses the magnitude of a physical quantity relative to a specified or implied reference level.
Sound intensityThe sound intensity is defined as the sound power per unit area.
Fundamental frequencyThe fundamental tone is the lowest frequency in a harmonic series.
Doppler effectThe Doppler effect is the change in frequency and wavelength of a wave as perceived by an observer moving relative to the source of the waves.
BeatIn acoustics, a beat is an interference between two sounds of slightly different frequencies, perceived as periodic variations in volume.
DiffractionDiffraction refers to various phenomena associated with the bending, spreading and interference of waves passing by an object or aperture that disrupts the wave.
Seismic waveA seismic wave is a wave that travels through the Earth, most often as the result of a tectonic earthquake, sometimes from an explosion.
Harmonic seriesThe harmonic seriew refers to the natural frequencies of an oscillator, limited to integer multiples of the lowest possible frequency.
OvertoneAn overtone or harmonic is a natural resonance or vibration frequency of a system.
Shock waveA shock wave is a type of propagating disturbance characterized by an abrupt, nearly discontinuous, change in the characteristics of the medium.
HarmonicA harmonic or overtone of a wave is a component frequency of the signal that is an integer multiple of the fundamental frequency.
BlueshiftBlueshift refers to a shortening of a transmitted signal's wavelength.
Sound pressureSound pressure is the pressure deviation from the local ambient pressure caused by an acoustic wave.
Huygens-Fresnel principleThe Huygens-Fresnel principle recognizes that each point of an advancing wave front is the center of a fresh disturbance and the source of a new train of waves.
Capillary waveA capillary wave or ripple is a wave travelling along the interface between two fluids, whose dynamics are dominated by the effects of surface tension.
Ripple tankA ripple tank is a shallow glass tank of water used in schools to demonstrate the basic properties of waves. It is a specialized form of a wave tank.
WavenumberWavenumber is a wave property inversely related to wavelength, having SI units of reciprocal meters.
RedshiftRedshift occurs when the electromagnetic radiation emitted from or reflected off an object is shifted toward the red end of the electromagnetic spectrum.
CoherenceCoherence is the property of wave-like states that enables them to exhibit interference. It is also the parameter that quantifies the quality of the interference.
Rayleigh waveRayleigh waves are a type of surface wave associated on the Earth with earthquakes and also with ocean waves.
Phase velocityThe phase velocity of a wave is the rate at which the phase of the wave propagates in space.
Group velocityThe group velocity of a wave is the velocity with which the variations in the shape of the wave's amplitude propagate through space.

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