Longitudinal wave

Longitudinal wave

Longitudinal waves are waves that have vibrations along or parallel to their direction of travel; that is, waves in which the motion of the medium is in the same direction as the motion of the wave. Mechanical longitudinal waves have been also referred to as compressional waves or compression waves.


Examples of non-electromagnetic longitudinal waves include sound waves (alternation in pressure, particle displacement, or particle velocity propagated in an elastic material) and seismic P-waves (created by earthquakes and explosions).

Sound waves

In the case of longitudinal harmonic sound waves, the frequency and wavelength can be described with the equation

y(x,t) = y_0 sinBigg(omega left(t-frac{x}{c} right) Bigg)


  • y(x,t) is the displacement of particles from the stable position, in the direction of propagation of the wave;
  • x is the displacement from the source of the wave to the point under consideration;
  • t is the time elapsed;
  • y_0 is the amplitude of the oscillations,
  • c is the speed of the wave; and
  • ω is the angular frequency of the wave.

The quantity x/c is the time that the wave takes to travel the distance x.

The ordinary frequency f, in Hertz, of the wave can be found using

f = frac{omega}{2 pi}.

For sound waves, the amplitude of the wave is the difference between the pressure of the undisturbed air and the maximum pressure caused by the wave.

Sound's propagation speed depends on the type, temperature and pressure of the medium through which it propagates.

Pressure waves

In an elastic medium with rigidity, a harmonic pressure wave oscillation has the form,

y(x,t), = y_0 cos(k x - omega t +phi)


  • y0 is the amplitude of displacement,
  • k is the wavenumber,
  • x is distance along the axis of propagation,
  • ω is angular frequency,
  • t is time, and
  • φ is phase difference.

The force acting to return the medium to its original position is provided by the medium's bulk modulus.


Maxwell's equations lead to the prediction of electromagnetic waves in a vacuum, which are transverse (in that the electric fields and magnetic fields vary perpendicularly to the direction of propagation). However, in a plasma or a confined space, there can exist waves which are either longitudinal or transverse, or a mixture of both. In plasma waves, there exists some examples and these plasma waves can occur in the situation of force-free magnetic fields.

In the early development of electromagnetism, there was some controversy, in that Helmholtz' theory led to the prediction of longitudinal waves. Oliver Heaviside examined this problem as there was no evidence suggesting that longitudinal electromagnetic waves existed in a vacuum. After Heaviside's attempts to generalize Maxwell's equations, Heaviside came to the conclusion that electromagnetic waves were not to be found as longitudinal waves in "free space" or homogeneous media. But it should be stated that longitudinal waves can exist along the interface between differing media (such as the various layers of the Earth's atmosphere and the surface of the Earth or as in the Schumann resonance).

Maxwell's equations do lead to the appearance of longitudinal waves under some circumstances in either plasma waves or guided waves. Basically distinct from the "free-space" waves, such as those studied by Hertz in his UHF experiments, are Zenneck waves. The longitudinal mode of a resonant cavity is a particular standing wave pattern formed by waves confined in a cavity. The longitudinal modes correspond to the wavelengths of the wave which are reinforced by constructive interference after many reflections from the cavity's reflecting surfaces.



Further reading

  • Varadan, V. K., and Vasundara V. Varadan, "Elastic wave scattering and propagation". Attenuation due to scattering of ultrasonic compressional waves in granular media - A.J. Devaney, H. Levine, and T. Plona. Ann Arbor, Mich., Ann Arbor Science, 1982.
  • Schaaf, John van der, Jaap C. Schouten, and Cor M. van den Bleek, "Experimental Observation of Pressure Waves in Gas-Solids Fluidized Beds". American Institute of Chemical Engineers. New York, N.Y., 1997.
  • Krishan, S, and A A Selim, " Generation of transverse waves by non-linear wave-wave interaction". Department of Physics, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada.
  • Barrow, W. L., "Transmission of electromagnetic waves in hollow tubes of metal", Proc. IRE, vol. 24, pp. 1298-1398, October 1936.
  • Russell, Dan, " Longitudinal and Transverse Wave Motion". Acoustics Animations, Kettering University Applied Physics.
  • Longitudinal Waves, with animations " The Physics Classroom"

See also

External links


Wave Transmission System (1940)
Ultrasonic Surface Waveguides (1970)
Surface Wave Transducer (1970
Longitudinal Wave Propagation Demonstrators (1970)
Process for eliminating longitudinal wave components in seismic exploration (1980)
Synthetic aperture ultrasonic testing apparatus with shear and longitudinal wave modes (1984)
Method and apparatus for measuring metal hardness utilizing longitudinal and transverse ultrasonic wave time-of-flight (1987)
Method and apparatus for measuring azimuthal as well as longitudinal waves in a formation traversed by a borehole (1992)
Surface acoustic wave device (1998)
Acoustic viscometer and method of determining kinematic viscosity and intrinsic viscosity by propagation of shear waves (2002)
Acousto-optic devices utilizing longitudinal acoustic waves (2003)
End surface reflection type surface acoustic wave apparatus utilizing waves with a longitudinal wave or shear vertical wave main component (2003)
Apparatus and method for minimizing electromagnetic emissions of technical emitters (2003)
Piezoelectric drive excited by longitudinal and flexural waves (2004)

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