Transverse waves

In transverse waves, the vibrations are at right angles to the direction of wave travel.

Examples of transverse waves include:

  • ripples on the surface of water
  • vibrations in a guitar string
  • side to side waves on a spring
  • a Mexican wave in a sports stadium
  • electromagnetic waves, eg light waves, microwaves, radio waves
  • seismic S-waves

One way to remember the movement of particles in transverse waves is to focus on the 's': transverse waves such as seismic S-waves may be thought of as shake or shear waves as the particles move from side-to-side – crossing the direction of wave travel.

Demonstrating transverse waves

Transverse waves are often demonstrated by moving a rope rapidly up and down.

A hand holds a length of rope taut

In the diagram the rope moves up and down, producing peaks and troughs. Energy is transferred from left to right. However, none of the particles are transported along a transverse wave. The particles move up and down as the wave is transmitted through the medium. Even though the energy moves along the wave, the rope itself stays in the hand. A water wave in a bath only makes a rubber duck bob up and down, neither the duck nor the water actually leave the bath.