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Please explain (with mathematical description if possible)

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- Thread starter Nick Jackson
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Please explain (with mathematical description if possible)

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ShayanJ

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I recommend you finding a good book and reading it since this is an important part of mathematics specially for physics.

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CWatters

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Try using graph paper (or excel) to draw a few sin waves. One with wave length L, another with wave length L/2, and another L/4. Then add the amplitudes together at each point along the x axis to form a new wave. What shape do you get? If you don't recognise it try adding more sin waves in the series (L/6 etc)

Repeat for L, L/3, L/5 What shape do you get this time?

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Mathematically, you can rewrite almost

Please explain (with mathematical description if possible)

Since all waves can be modeled mathematically as a function, you can write them as a fourier series, i.e. a combination of sine/cosine functions. Now, since a sine/cosine function can be interpreted to represent a sine/cosine wave, the answer to your question is

But it's not just the mathematics that say you can do this: In nature periodic waves will be added to each other in the same fashion as in the math, so you could say that e.g. human speech is just a combination of (very many) different periodic sine waves.

If you know some serious mathematics, read on:

But the interesting point is that the fourier series are just one of many different "expansions" you can use to represent a function. The taylor series, which has polynomials as its basis (basis = set of linearly independent functions that span all of "Hilbert space" if you know linear algebra), is another way to do it. So while you might think it doesn't matter which expansion you choose, fact of the matter it does.

In the case of waves it's MUCH easier to use fourier series than taylor series. The reason is that the main characteristic of the fourier series is that their basis are

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Khashishi

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##e^{-x} = \cos(ix)+i \sin(ix)##

However, waves in physics generally refer to functions of multiple space dimensions

But sometimes, the boundary conditions cause a solution in terms of sines and cosines to be inappropriate. This is often the case for a cylindrical or spherical cavity. In these cases, it is better to write the wave in terms of sums of Bessel functions or spherical Bessel functions, respectively.

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It strongly depends on what do you mean by waves :)

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This is suggestive, but it's not a proof. The rigorous proof is relatively complicated and was developed over hundreds of years. Fourier contributed to the theory in several ways. Firstly, he applied the same idea to develop a theory of heat. In that theory, it's very clear that you can have non-differentiable functions, so maybe the main role that Fourier played was to suggest that you could represent an arbitrary, possibly discontinuous function this way. Fourier also seems to have contributed some arguments in that direction, but it wasn't really fully proven until much later. Dirichlet more or less settled it for nice enough functions, and some people came up with nasty enough functions that couldn't be represented as Fourier series, so it turned out that you need some weak assumptions to get it to work, and you can also get it to work for more functions if you redefine your concept of convergence. Anyway, it was a big inspiration for the development of math in the 19th century, and I don't think the theory was fully fleshed out until the 20th century.

The best book on the subject is Discourse on Fourier Series by Lanczos, but it's relatively advanced (advanced undergraduate level/early graduate level, maybe). You can also gain some insight by reading books about signal processing or the theory of waves and oscillations.

I've been sloppy and haven't talked about the requirement of being periodic and boundary conditions and so on. For a non-periodic function, you can let the period go to infinity, in some sense, and you arrive at the concept of a Fourier transform, so in some sense, it works for non-periodic functions, too, but you need an integral rather than a sum (integrate over continuous frequencies, rather than sum over discrete ones).

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