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### Course: Physics archive > Unit 8

Lesson 2: Introduction to mechanical waves# The equation of a wave

In this video David shows how to determine the equation of a wave, how that equation works, and what the equation represents. Created by David SantoPietro.

## Want to join the conversation?

- why is pi in the wave equation?? not quite understanding why. thanks!(16 votes)
- @Hannah C.

The heart of the wave equations as David described them are trigonometry functions, sine and cosine. Trig functions take angles as arguments. The most natural units to express angles in are radians. The circumference of a circle = π times its diameter. The diameter is 2 times the radius, so C = 2πR. Now when the radius equals 1, C = 2π. The meaning of this is that any angle can be expressed in radians as an arclength on a circle of radius 1. 2π radians = 360 degrees. So the 2π in the cosine (or sine) function of a wave equation is a proportionality constant to turn a distance in meters for example into angle that can be input to the trig function so the trig function will output a height (distance).(52 votes)

- Why do we subtract (2pi x time/ time period) when the wave is moving right ? and add when moving to the left??(8 votes)
- If y(x)=cos(x-1) then at x=1 y=cos(0) so at x=1 you are seeing what would normally be at x=0 and in order to do that you have to move the point from the x=0 position to the x=1 position, which is moving the point or wave to the right. I hope I didn't confuse you more.(11 votes)

- what is the wave equation for longitudinal wave?(8 votes)
- The basic idea is the same, the only difference being that the particles now don't oscillate along the y-axis as in transverse waves, they now do so in the x-axis itself. So, instead of y(x,t) we use x(x,t). But that equation is very confusing since you can't know which is the input x and which is the output. So, it's convenient to replace one of them by a different variable.

So, the general equation of a longitudinal wave is:-

s(x,t)=Asin(kx-wx)(1 vote)

- Will increasing frequency increase wave speed?(3 votes)
- Hello Xue,

Nope.

The speed at which the wave moves through a medium is constant. Actually, that is an oversimplification, the wave's velocity depends on the medium through which it is moving:

* Radio waves and light move at the speed of light...

* sound is a wave traveling through the air. The actual speed depends on temperature, humidity, and altitude...

* waves on the ocean are dependent on the depth of the ocean floor...

Regards,

APD(8 votes)

- How is he able to input any value for (x,t), in this case 5.2s and 3m with the wave having a constant velocity of 0.5m/s? Is this a mistake/bad example or am I missing something?(2 votes)
- It's not a mistake. The speed of the wave will not change depending on the values inputted into the wave function. Essentially, the only purpose of the function is to find out where the wave height will be at a certain time and distance.(6 votes)

- Why was there T (period) and t (time) in the original generalized equation, and in the example the t (time) was not considered ? Just the T (period) was considered.(3 votes)
- The goal was to find an equation of the given wave in terms of distance "x" and time "t," so that if you insert any distance and time, the equation will tell you the corresponding height.(3 votes)

- hi, at 8.22, why does the wave move towards left when we add a phase constant(3 votes)
- You could look at the phase constant as if it
**added**to the wave's shift towards the next peak according to our chosen default point of time.

Such wave basically starts already**further**from its normal state at the time we start observing it.(2 votes)

- Can you use sin instead of course without changing the equation(2 votes)
- Hi there, I am confused about the phase factor (phi). What is it and how do we calculate it?

Thank you :)(3 votes)- If time is 0, where does it start?

For this video's case, it just starts at the peak, so the phase factor is just 0. However, if you were to start halfway through the wave, then the phase factor would be some non-0 number.(1 vote)

- Why does some teachers use cos instead of sin in the equation? Does it make a difference?(2 votes)
- Like the narrator says at3:09, if the wave starts the cycle at a maximum, it is a cosine wave, and if it starts at its axis, then it is a sine wave. It depends on the wave you look at.

For further reading: http://www.dummies.com/education/math/trigonometry/comparing-cosine-and-sine-functions-in-a-graph/(2 votes)

## Video transcript

- [Narrator] I want to show
you the equation of a wave and explain to you how to use it, but before I do that, I should
explain what do we even mean to have a wave equation? What does it mean that a
wave can have an equation? And here's what it means. So imagine you've got a water
wave and it looks like this. And we graph the vertical
height of the water wave as a function of the position. So for instance, say you
go walk out on the pier and you go look at a water
wave heading towards the shore, so the wave might move like this. You'll see this wave
moving towards the shore. Now, realistic water waves on an ocean don't really look like this, but this is the
mathematically simplest wave you could describe, so we're gonna start with this simple one as a starting point. So let's say this is your wave, you go walk out on the pier, and you go stand at this point and the point right in front of you, you see that the water height is high and then one meter to the right of you, the water level is zero, and then two meters to the right of you, the water height, the water
level is negative three. What does that mean? It means that if it was
a nice day out, right, there was no waves whatsoever, there'd just be a flat ocean or lake or wherever you're standing. But if there's waves, that
water level can be higher than that position or lower
than that water level position. We'll just call this
water level position zero where the water would normally
be if there were no waves. So you graph this thing and
you get this graph like this, which is really just a snapshot. Because this is vertical height
versus horizontal position, it's really just a picture. So in other words, I could
just fill this in with water, and I'd be like, "Oh yeah,
that's what the wave looks like "at that moment in time." And if I were to show what the wave does, it travels toward the shore like this and you'd see it move, so that's what this graph really is. If you've got a height versus position, you've really got a picture or a snapshot of what the wave looks like
at all horizontal positions at one particular moment in time. And so what should our equation be? It should be an equation
for the vertical height of the wave that's at least
a function of the positions, so this is function of. This isn't multiplied by, but this y should at least
be a function of the position so that I get a function
where I can plug in any position I want. Let's say x equals zero. And it should tell me,
oh yeah, that's at three. So this wave equation
should spit out three when I plug in x equals zero. When I plug in x equals one, it should spit out, oh,
that's at zero height, so it should give me a y value of zero, and if I were to plug in
an x value of 6 meters, it should tell me, oh yeah,
that y value is negative three. So no matter what x I
plug in here, say seven, it should tell me what
the value of the height of the wave is at that
horizontal position. So what would this equation look like? Well, let's just try to figure it out. Y should equal as a function of x, it should be no greater
than three or negative three and this is called the amplitude. So if we call this here the amplitude A, it's gonna be no bigger
than that amplitude, so in this case the
amplitude would be three, but I'm just gonna write
amplitude, so this is a general equation that you
could apply to any wave. And then look at the shape of this. This is like a sine or a cosine graph. Which one is this? Well, because at x equals zero, it starts at a maximum, I'm gonna say this is most like a cosine graph because cosine of zero
starts at a maximum value, so I'm gonna say that this is like cosine of some stuff in here. Now you might be tempted to just write x. But that's not gonna work. If I just wrote x in here, this wouldn't be general
enough to describe any wave. Because think about it, if I've just got x, cosine
of x will reset every time x gets to two pi. So every time the total
inside here gets to two pi, cosine resets. But look at this cosine. It resets after four meters. And some other wave might
reset after eight meters, and some other wave might reset after a different distance. I need a way to specify in here how far you have to
travel in the x direction for the wave to reset. So x alone isn't gonna do it, because if you've just got x, it always resets after two pi. So what do I do? I play the same game that we played for simple harmonic oscillators. And I say that this is two pi, and I divide by not the period this time. This is not a function of time, at least not yet. It's not a function of time. This is just of x. So this wouldn't be the period. This would not be the time it takes for this function to reset. It would actually be the
distance that it takes for this function to reset. In other words, what
we call the wavelength. So the distance between two
peaks is called the wavelength. And we represent it with
this Greek letter lambda. So the distance it takes
a wave to reset in space is the wavelength. That's what we would divide by, because that has units of meters. And then finally, we would
multiply by x in here. That way, if I start at x equals zero, cosine starts at a maximum, I would get three. If I say that my x has gone
all the way to one wavelength, and in this case it's four meters. If I go all the way at four
meters or one wavelength, once I plug in wavelength
for x, that wavelength would cancel this wavelength. We'd get two pi and
this cosine would reset, because once the total
inside becomes two pi, the cosine will reset. And that's what happens for this wave. It should reset after every wavelength. You go another wavelength, it resets. Another wavelength, it resets. And that's what would happen in here. So how would we apply this wave equation to this particular wave? Well, let's take this. It's already got cosine, so that's cool because I've got this here. You could use sine if your
wave started at this point and went up from there, but ours start at a maximum,
so we'll use cosine. So we'll say that our
amplitude, not just A, our amplitude happens to be three meters because our water gets
as high as three meters above the equilibrium level. And we'll leave cosine in here. The two pi stays, but the lambda does not. Our wavelength is not just lambda. That's just too general. We gotta write what it is, and it's the distance from peak to peak, which is four meters,
or you could measure it from trough to trough, or
you could call these valleys. Valley to valley, that'd
also be four meters. Regardless of how you measure it, the wavelength is four meters. And then what do I plug in for x? I don't, because I want a function. This is a function of x. I mean, I can plug in values of x. Actually, let's do it. Let's see if this function works. If I leave it as just x, it's a function that tells me the height of
the wave at any point in x. But we should be able to test it. Let's test if it actually works. So let's take x and
let's just plug in zero. So if I plug in zero for x, what does this function tell me? It tells me that the cosine
of all of this would be zero. And I know cosine of zero is just one. So tell me that this whole
function's gonna equal three meters, and that's true. The height of this wave at x equals zero, so at x equals zero, the height
of the wave is three meters. So that one worked. Let's try another one. Let's say we plug in a horizontal
position of two meters. If I plug in two meters over here, and then I plug in two meters over here, what do I get? This is gonna be three
meters times cosine of, well, two times two is
four, over four is one, times pi, it's gonna be cosine of just pi. And the cosine of pi is negative one. So I'm gonna get negative
three out of this. Negative three meters, and that's true. The height of this wave at two meters is negative three meters. So this function's telling
us the height of the wave at any horizontal position
x, which is pretty cool. However, you might've spotted a problem. You might be like, "Wait a
minute, that's fine and all, "but this is for one moment in time. "This wave's moving, remember?" This whole wave moves toward the shore. So at a particular moment in time, yeah, this equation might give
you what the wave shape is for all values of x, but if I wait just a moment, boop, now everything's messed up. Now, at x equals two, the
height is not negative three. And at x equals zero, the height
is no longer three meters. It only goes up to here now. So what do we do? How do we describe a wave
that's actually moving to the right in a single equation? Well, it's not as bad as you might think. Let me get rid of this Let's clean this up. We're really just gonna
build off of this function over here. What I really need is a wave
equation that's not only a function of x, but that's
also a function of time. So this function up here has
to not just be a function of x, it's got to also be a function of time so that I could plug in
any time at any position, and it would tell me what the value of the height of the wave is. So how do I get the
time dependence in here? Well, I'm gonna ask you to remember, if you add a phase constant in here. Remember, if you add a number
inside the argument cosine, it shifts the wave. In fact, if you add a
little bit of a constant, it's gonna take your wave, it actually shifts it to the left. So we're not gonna want to add. If we've got a wave going to the right, we're gonna want to subtract a certain amount of shift in here. But subtracting a certain
amount, so that's cool, because subtracting a certain
amount shifts the wave to the right. But if I just had a
constant shift in here, that wouldn't do it. Like, the wave at the
beach does not just move to the right and then boop it just stops. It just keeps moving. We need a wave that keeps on shifting. So you might realize if you're clever, you could be like, "Wait, why don't I just "make this phase shift depend on time? "That way, as time keeps increasing, the wave's gonna keep on
shifting more and more." So if this wave shift
term kept getting bigger as time got bigger, your wave would keep
shifting to the right. You'd have an equation
that describes a wave that's actually moving, so what would you put in here? It might seem daunting. You might be like, "Man,
that's gonna be complicated. "How do we figure that out?" But it's not too bad, because
just like the wavelength is the distance it takes
for the wave to reset, there's also something called the period, and we represent that with a capital T. And the period is the time it takes for the wave to reset. So if I wait one whole period, this wave will have moved in such a way that it gets right back to
where you couldn't really tell. It looks like the exact
same wave, in other words. So we've showed that over here. Let's say you had your water wave up here. And I take this wave. If you wait one whole period,
the wave will have shifted right back and it'll look
like it did just before. So the whole wave is
moving toward the beach. If you close your eyes, and
then open them one period later, the wave looks exactly the same. So I'm gonna use that fact up here. We need this function to reset
not just after a wavelength. We need it to reset
after a period as well. So how do we represent that? We play the exact same game. We say that, all right, I
can't just put time in here. What I'm gonna do is I'm gonna put two pi over the period, capital T, and
then I multiply by the time. That way, just like every time
x went through a wavelength, every time we walk one
wavelength along the pier, we see the same height,
because this becomes two pi. Every time we wait one whole period, this becomes two pi, and this whole thing is gonna reset again. So this is the wave equation, and I guess we could make
it a little more general. This cosine could've been sine. So if you end up with a
wave that's better described with a sine, maybe it starts here and goes up, you might want to use sine. And the negative, remember
the negative caused this wave to shift to the right, you could use negative or positive because it could shift
right with the negative, or if you use the positive, adding a phase shift term shifts it left. So a positive term up
here would describe a wave moving to the left and technically speaking,
you could make it just slightly more general by having one more
constant phase shift term over here to the right. If we add this, then we
could take into account cases that are weird where
maybe the graph starts like here and neither starts as a sine or a cosine. You'd have to draw it
shifted by just a little bit. But in our case right here, you don't have to worry about it because it started at a maximum, so you wouldn't have to
have that phase shift. And this is it. This is the wave equation. This is what we wanted: a function of position in time that tells you the height of the wave at any position x, horizontal position x, and any time T. So let's try to apply this formula to this particular wave
we've got right here. So I'm gonna get rid of this. This was just the expression for the wave at one moment in time. So maybe this picture that we
took of the wave at the pier was at the moment, let's call
it T equals zero seconds. So at T equals zero seconds,
we took this picture. That's what the wave looks like, and this is the function that describes what the wave looks like
at that moment in time, but we're gonna do better now. Now we're gonna describe
what the wave looks like for any position x and any time T. So let's do this. What would the amplitude be? That's easy, it's still three. The wave never gets any higher than three, never gets any lower than negative three, so our amplitude is still three meters. And since at x equals
zero and T equals zero, our graph starts at a maximum, we're still gonna want to use cosine. So we come in here, two pi x over lambda. Well, the lambda is still a lambda, so a lambda here is still four meters, because it took four meters
for this graph to reset. You had to walk four meters along the pier to see this graph reset. That's a little misleading. I mean, you'd have to run really fast. The wave's gonna be
moving as you're walking. So I should say, if
you're standing at zero and a friend of yours is standing at four, you would both see the same height because the wave resets after four meters. Would we want positive or negative? Since this wave is moving to the right, we would want the negative. I wouldn't need a phase shift term because this starts as a perfect cosine. It doesn't start as some
weird in-between function. The only question is what
do I plug in for the period? So I would need one more
piece of information. If I'm told the period, that'd be fine. But sometimes questions
are trickier than that. Maybe they tell you this wave
is traveling to the right at 0.5 meters per second. Let's say that's the wave speed, and you were asked, "Create an equation "that describes the wave as a
function of space and time." So you'd do all of this,
but then you'd be like, how do I find the period? We'd have to use the fact that, remember, the speed of a wave is either written as wavelength times frequency,
or you can write it as wavelength over period. So I can solve for the period, and I can say that the period of this wave if I'm given the speed and the wavelength, I can find the wavelength on this graph. I'd say that the period of the wave would be the wavelength
divided by the speed. So our wavelength was four
meters, and our speed, let's say we were just told that it was 0.5 meters per second, would give us a period of eight seconds. So we'd have to plug in
eight seconds over here for the period. And there it is. That's my equation for this wave. This describes, this
little equation is amazing. It describes the height of this wave at any position x and any time T. So in other words, I could
plug in three meters for x and 5.2 seconds for the time, and it would tell me, "What's
the height of this wave "at three meters at the time 5.2 seconds?" Which is pretty amazing. So recapping, this is the wave equation that describes the height of the wave for any position x and time T. You would use the negative sign if the wave is moving to the right and the positive sign if the
wave was moving to the left.