Lectures on Physics has been derived from Benjamin Crowell's Light and Matter series of free introductory textbooks on physics. See the editorial for more information....

Summary - Bounded Waves

Whenever a wave encounters the boundary between two media in which its speeds are different, part of the wave is reflected and part is transmitted. The reflection is always reversed front-to-back, but may also be inverted in amplitude. Whether the reflection is inverted depends on how the wave speeds in the two media compare, e.g. a wave on a string is uninverted when it is reflected back into a segment of string where its speed is lower. The greater the difference in wave speed between the two media, the greater the fraction of the wave energy that is reflected. Surprisingly, a wave in a dense material like wood will be strongly reflected back into the wood at a wood-air boundary.

A one-dimensional wave confined by highly reflective boundaries on two sides will display motion which is periodic. For example, if both reflections are inverting, the wave will have a period equal to twice the time required to traverse the region, or to that time divided by an integer. An important special case is a sinusoidal wave; in this case, the wave forms a stationary pattern composed of a superposition of sine waves moving in opposite direction.

Last Update: 2009-06-21