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Transverse Waves


Consider a person holding one end of a flexible string with the other end tied to a wall. When he shakes his end of the string up and down, he creates a disturbance that moves horizontally along the string. If the end of the string is shaken up and down in a simple harmonic manner, creating a periodic wave. These disturbances are examples of waves. Waves carry energy from one location to another.

A key feature of a wave is that, it transports energy without transporting matter. All waves are "disturbance" of some type and the "thing" that is disturbed by the wave is called its medium. In many cases, this medium is a material substance such as the string and these waves are called mechanical waves. Mechanical waves are of two types, transverse and longitudinal. This section highlights the importance, properties and examples of transverse waves.

Transverse Wave Definition

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The motion of the medium is perpendicular to the direction of wave propagation is known as transverse waves. The given figure depicts the direction of propagation of a transverse wave.
Transverse Wave

Types of Transverse Waves

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The important types of transverse waves are electromagnetic and polarized waves. The simple description of these two are :

Electromagnetic waves : A kind of transverse wave in which the medium is not required for the propagation. The name itself indicates that the periodic changes take place electric as well as the magnetic field. These waves travel with the velocity of light.

Polarized waves :
A two dimensional wave which undergoes polarization is known as polarized waves. There are different types of polarized waves. They are linearly polarized, circularly polarized and elliptically polarized waves.

Are Sound Waves Transverse?

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Sound Waves are not transverse, they are longitudinal in nature. The difference between the transverse and longitudinal waves are described in the following section.

Is Light a Transverse Wave?

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Yes, light waves are transverse. Light waves are electromagnetic waves. Electromagnetic waves are transverse in nature. The features of electromagnetic waves are mentioned above.

Transverse and Longitudinal Waves

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As mentioned earlier, in transverse waves the motion of the medium is perpendicular to the direction of propagation of waves. If the motion of the medium is parallel to the wave's propagation direction, the waves are called longitudinal. A stretched string is an example of longitudinal wave. The figure illustrate both transverse and longitudinal behaviour of a wave.
Transverse and Longitudinal Wave

Examples of Transverse Waves

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Some common examples for transverse waves are listed below :