Your adventure at the Yerkes Summer Institute this year is all about waves. You will be exploring questions like: What are waves? What properties do we use to describe waves? What are the characteristics of waves that are common to all waves? How do waves transmit energy from one place to another? How do astronomers and cosmologists use an understanding of waves to discover more about our universe? As you work through the sessions during the institute, you will need to keep a journal. In this journal each day, youll record thoughts and ideas that bring you closer to the answers for some of these questions. You will also write down other questions that you may want to ask about waves.
Think of a water wave crashing onto shore. Before that wave appears, picture the undisturbed water. We can see a smooth glass-like surface suddenly transformed into rolling waters. But as the waters calm once again, all of that charging water is hardly any farther up on the beach than it was before. The water really hasnt moved forward. The waves moved, you know that for sure, you saw them. And it is true. Some of the waves that have reached Californias shores have originated over 7000 miles away and traveled that distance at speed of 40 mph and higher. Why isnt California sitting under a whole bunch of water? Whats the deal? What is a wave?
The scenario described above gives us a little more information. Obviously there was motion and most certainly there was a disturbance of the water. However, did the water itself move? Is California sitting under water after that wave hits? So, here it is
WAVE CLUE # 1 |
A wave is a disturbance that travels from one place to another through water without moving the water.
Picture the school bully standing on a giant cork in the middle of Lake Michigan. He seems to be on a yo-yo bobbing up and down. Keeping an eye on the bully, you notice that whenever the waves roll by he begins to bob. When the waves stop, he stops. A disturbance is carrying something through the water that is causing the waves to form which then causes the Bully to bob. As we stated above, the blob of water that he is floating upon is not moving because he is as far away from you as he was before. That something is moving. What is the something that the travelling disturbance is carrying through the water?
What is happening to the water when that something moves through it? How did it look before the disturbance? How does it look after the disturbance? Was there a change? There definitely is. Remember earlier we visualized the tranquil waters changing into high raging waters ? What causes things to change? Ask yourself these questions
Yes, there it is, the Big E. Energy is the ability to cause change. An easy way to understand what energy does is to remember this sentence, "Energy makes things move, change, grow, or glow." (Wong, 1995, p. 7)
If youve gotten the point, youre ready for
WAVE CLUE # 2 |
The travelling disturbance in a wave is carrying energy.
Okay, the water is changing as the wave moves through it and that is our evidence of the wave carrying energy. But where does this energy come from? During the Waves and Water Waves labs, you will actually have the chance to "make waves". But lets try to think about a wave now and try to figure out from where this energy comes.
Imagine that you have a rope. Tie one end of the rope to something stable, maybe a doorknob or a table leg. Hold the opposite end of the rope (the end not tied) in your hand and use your wrist to jerk your hand up and down several times. What happens? You create a vibration, a movement that follows the same path over and over. Anything that is vibrating is moving. Anything that moving has energy. And Voila! A wave motion moves from your end of the rope to other end.
Remember this whole idea of energy? Before you made your wrist jerk there was all of this potential energy just waiting for a chance to do its thing. Once you made your wrist jerk the potential energy became kinetic energy. Kinetic energy is the energy of motion. Your wrists vibrations gave off some energy to nearby particles so they started vibrating. Then they gave off some energy to the particles next to them and they started vibrating. Then they gave off yada, yada, yada. This movement of energy from a vibrating source (your wrist) outward is guess what?
WAVE CLUE # 3 |
The source of energy contributing to movement is a vibration.
So far, we have talked about water waves. Of course, there are other types of waves. Earlier we mentioned those incredible sound waves that your cousin makes when she does her version of singing. What about those old cowboy movies? The good guy gets down on all fours, puts his ear to the ground, and figures out from the vibrations how far away the bad guys are. This must mean that water isnt the only thing through which waves travel.
Lets see now: ocean waves went through water and thats a liquid; sound waves went through air and thats made up of gases; and bad guys horses sent vibrations through the ground and that is a solid. Liquid, gas, solid hmmm these sound familiar. Wait, wait its coming to me Oh, yes. These things make up the stuff we call matter. The substance that waves can travel through doesnt have to just be water or other liquids. It can be other forms of matter. We call this matter a medium.
Think about this: how could you watch Moesha if it wasnt for those fantastic radio waves that bring her into your home each week? Maybe you are thinking that those waves travel through air like the sound waves. Do they? See if you can figure that one out this week. Lets take a more obvious example light waves from the sun. You still think that they are transmitted by air because the atmosphere of our planet is made up of gases. Before those waves reach the atmosphere, what do they have to go through? Right, space! Space is relatively free of particles. It is essentially a vacuum.
This is the final clue. After this, youre on your own. With all of these clues and the work you do in the labs this week, youre going to have to be able to explain what a wave is. Ready? Here it is:
WAVE CLUE # 4 |
Some waves are transmitted through a medium. Other waves can travel through a medium and a vacuum.
What Are the Wave Groups?There are two major wave groups. In the section above, we talked about waves that were transmitted through matter. All of these waves are called mechanical waves. Two of your group names represent mechanical waves.
But what about the third group? What kind of waves are they? Remember those multi-talented waves that can move through through a medium and a vacuum are called electromagnetic waves. Along the left side of this page, you can observe a representation of the electromagnetic spectrum and all of the types of waves that we find in that spectrum. You can also see some of the ways that we use those waves. On the right hand side, you see a numeric representation that gives the wavelength in addition to the frequency. In electromagnetic waves the disturbance moves through electric or magnetic fields instead of moving through particles (matter)as the mechanical fields do.
Remember, earlier we talked about the source of energy movement in a wave being a vibration? Well, the frequency of a wave is dependent on the source of the vibrations. In our example of the rope on the door, the faster you moved your hand the more waves you created in a minute; the slower you moved your hand, fewer waves were created in a minute.
It will help us to think about a Slinky® (You will actually get to do this in one of the labs.) Imagine holding the Slinky® between your hands. You begin to wiggle your right hand up and down. Up and down, up and down, up and down. You are constantly moving your hand up and down. No doubt about it the motion of your hand (the source of vibrations) is moving up and down (vertically). But take a look at the Slinky® as the wave moves across it:
The energy isnt moving vertically - it is moving horizontally across the Slinky® (medium). The wave motion (your hand) is at right angles to the motion of the wave energy going through the medium (the Slinky®). When this occurs, it is a transverse wave.
Lets use the Slinky® again. Can you make the Slinky® walk? Notice how this time the coils seem to gather together and then spring apart, they clump and then spread apart. Get some to hold one end of the Slinky® and you hold the other. Push your end of the Slinky® towards your partner. What do you see? Now the wave energy moves across the Slinky® in the same direction that you pushed.A wave that has the motion of the medium parallel to the direction of the wave is a longitudinal wave.