How Can Waves Transport Energy Without Transporting Matter?

Wave energy travels as particles "undergo a back-and-forth vibratory cycle about a fixed position," according to The Physics Classroom. These particles bump into one another to transfer the energy, but the force of the bump pushes them back to their original position.

While wave energy travels through solids, liquids, gases and plasma, looking at wave energy traveling through a solid medium, such as seismic waves through the Earth's crust, makes it easier to understand how energy transfers without actually moving the particles. The energy of a seismic wave begins due to an episode such as an earthquake. Energy is transferred to the soil surrounding the fault line and then transfers, particle by particle, until an individual feels the shock of the earthquake, often miles away from the epicenter. While the particles undergo vibrational energy, they do not actually move. The vibrational forces move through the foundation and structure of a home, but most of the time, it remains in the same location. If the forces are greater than the structure's elasticity, the energy causes damage to the property.

According to, primary waves from an earthquake travel through solids, liquids and gases at speeds up to five miles per second. Surface waves from an earthquake, while the slowest moving form, create the most damage. They create the up and down motion that is intense enough to break the foundations of buildings and leave carnage.