Can Waves Reveal the Properties of Their Medium?

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In summary, waves can tell us a lot about the medium they've traveled through, such as the velocity of propagation, the impedance of the material, and loss (absorption).
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Boballoo
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What can we tell about the medium a wave has traveled through?
Summary: What can we tell about the medium a wave has traveled through?

What can a wave tell us about the media, whether it is space, water, air or whatever, that it has passed through? Does it have some "memory" or hint of what it has previously passed through? I am thinking mostly of different densities in space that a wave such as a gravity wave, has traveled through. Can we sort the waves out somehow like we can with light?
 
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Well, nearly everything we know about the properties of matter we know from investigating it with electromagnetic waves of different wavelengths. E.g. with X rays for the first time the crystal-lattice structure of solids has been demonstrated in 1912 by Max von Laue (Nobel prize 1914).
 
  • #3
The science of acoustics provides methods to measure and understand the physical media through which mechanical waves travel. Sonar analyses objects and conditions in water. Echo-location provides information for bats in air and cetaceans in water and air.

As stated above RADAR and similar electromagnetic technology provides a wealth of information about conditions and objects subject to electromagnetic fields.
 
  • #4
Essential to seismography and tomography (MRIs & CAT scans for example); even simple xrays. You could look those up. To first order the characteristics of the medium are velocity of propagation, the impedance of the material, and loss (absorption). When waves cross a boundary between different materials (different impedances) they can reflect (all or partially). This can be analyzed by many different techniques.
 
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Welcome to the PF. :smile:
Boballoo said:
What can a wave tell us about the media, whether it is space, water, air or whatever, that it has passed through?
Waves, Optics and EM propagation are fascinating subjects. What is your background in math so far? It is easier to describe the Wave Equation and related topics and wave propagation in various media if you are comfortable with calculus. If you haven't studied calculus yet, that's okay, we can try to help you get an intuitive understanding of how waves propagate through media and across the boundaries between media.

Do these links help?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wave_equation
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wave_propagation
 

Related to Can Waves Reveal the Properties of Their Medium?

1. What is a wave's medium?

A wave's medium is the material or substance through which the wave travels. It can be a solid, liquid, or gas.

2. How does the medium affect the speed of a wave?

The medium affects the speed of a wave by changing the amount of resistance or friction the wave experiences as it travels through the medium. For example, sound waves travel faster through solids than through gases.

3. Can a wave travel through a vacuum?

No, a wave cannot travel through a vacuum because there is no medium for it to travel through. This is why sound cannot travel in outer space.

4. What happens to a wave when it reaches the end of its medium?

When a wave reaches the end of its medium, it can either be reflected, absorbed, or transmitted. Reflection occurs when the wave bounces back, absorption occurs when the wave is absorbed by the medium, and transmission occurs when the wave passes through the medium and continues on.

5. Can a wave's medium change?

Yes, a wave's medium can change. For example, when light travels from air into water, it changes its medium and can be refracted or bent due to the change in the speed of the wave.

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