2. Wave Interaction

Reflection and Refraction of Waves

As we saw in the case of standing waves on the strings of a musical instrument, reflection is the change in direction of a wave when it bounces off a barrier, such as a fixed end. When the wave hits the fixed end, it changes direction, returning to its source. As it is reflected, the wave experiences an inversion, which means that it flips vertically. If a wave hits the fixed end with a crest, it will return as a trough, and vice versa (Henderson 2015). Refer to Figure 13.17.

A wave travels to the right, hits the fixed end, flips vertically, and travels to the left.
Figure 13.17 A wave is inverted after reflection from a fixed end.

Rather than encountering a fixed end or barrier, waves sometimes pass from one medium into another, for instance, from air into water. Different types of media have different properties, such as density or depth, that affect how a wave travels through them. At the boundary between media, waves experience refraction—they change their path of propagation. As the wave bends, it also changes its speed and wavelength upon entering the new medium. Refer to Figure 13.18.

A wave bends slightly to the right of its original path as it crosses the line into another medium.

Figure 13.18 A wave refracts as it enters a different medium.

For example, water waves traveling from the deep end to the shallow end of a swimming pool experience refraction. They bend in a path closer to perpendicular to the surface of the water, propagate slower, and decrease in wavelength as they enter shallower water.

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