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The Basics of Waves

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More Lessons for High School Physics

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A series of free Online High School Physics Video Lessons.

In this lesson, we will learn

  • Wave Characteristics
  • Frequency and Period of a wave
  • Amplitude of a wave
  • Wavelength of a wave
  • Speed of a wave

Wave Characteristics

Waves are disturbances that travel through a fluid medium. Several common wave characteristics include frequency, period, wavelength, and amplitude. There are two main type of waves, transverse waves and longitudinal waves.
Understanding the different characteristics of waves.
A brief introduction to characteristics of transverse and longitudinal waves such as wavelength, amplitude, phase, crests, troughs, compressions and rarefactions.
Define terms to describe periodic waves - speed, wavelength, frequency.
Determine whether points on consecutive wave are in phase.

Frequency - Period

The frequency of a wave measures how often it passes a given point in a given length of time. A wave's period measures how long it takes for a wave to pass a given point in its entirety, from crest to crest. Frequency and period are basically measuring the same characteristic of a wave and can be related by the equation period = 1 / frequency. The frequency and periods of electromagnetic waves do not change and can be used to identify different types of waves.
A brief introduction to frequency and period.
Calculate the period and frequency for objects moving in circles at constant speed.
Understanding frequency of waves.


Amplitude measures how far a wave rises and falls. A wave's amplitude is defined as half the distance from its highest point to its lowest point. Amplitude is proportional to the energy of a wave, a high energy wave having a high amplitude and a low energy wave having a low amplitude.
Understanding the amplitude of waves.
Wavelength and Amplitude



Wavelength is the distance between two crests of a wave. It is related to frequency and period by the equations
wave speed = frequency × wavelength and
wave speed = wavelength / period.
How to understand and find the length of waves.

Wave Speed

Wave speed is the speed at which a wave travels. Wave speed is related to wavelength, frequency, and period by the equation wave speed = frequency × wavelength. The most commonly used wave speed is the speed of visible light, an electromagnetic wave
How to find the speed of waves
Oscillation and Wave Speed - Exploring Wave Motion


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