Transverse and longitudinal waves

Transverse waves

In traverse waves the particles of the medium vibrate at right angles to the direction that the energy travels. This is where the name transverse comes from - it means 'across'. All of the electromagnetic waves, eg light, infrared, ultraviolet are transverse waves, as are water waves.

Step one

First of three images: A hand holding a rope held taught and horizontal.A hand holding a rope held taught and horizontal.

Step two

Second of three images: A hand jerked down to produce a sine wave shape in the rope.A hand jerked down to produce a sine wave shape in the rope.

Step three

Third of three images: A hand jerked up to continue the sine wave motion in the rope.A hand jerked up to continue the sine wave motion in the rope.

Longitudinal waves

With sound waves, the energy travels along in the same direction as the particles vibrate. This type of wave is known as a longitudinal wave, so named because the energy travels along the direction of vibration of the particles.

Step one

First of three images: A hand holding a stationary spring stretched horizontally.A hand holding a stationary spring stretched horizontally.

Step two

Second of three images: A hand jerked forward to produce a compressed area in the spring.A hand jerked forward to produce a compressed area in the spring.

Step three

Third of three images: The compressed area in the spring travels along its length.The compressed area in the spring travels along its length.