Sound waves are mechanical waves that require a medium to travel and cannot travel through vacuum. The properties that define a sound wave are its wavelength, amplitude, frequency and velocity. Wavelength is an important property of sound wave which helps us understand how the sound waves move through the world and is defined as the distance the wave travels between two consecutive crests or troughs. The wavelength of sound waves helps us relate the frequencies of sound waves to the dimensions of objects that the sound wave interacts.
Introduction to Sound Waves
Before understanding the concept of wavelength of sound waves, it is important to understand what sound waves are and what parameters characterize sound waves.
Sound waves in air are longitudinal waves in which particles travel along the direction of propagation of wave, but they can also have transverse nature. They are defined as mechanical or pressure waves that result from back and forth vibration of particles of the medium through which the sound waves are moving. The figure below shows the movement of the sound waves through a material medium
Parameters that characterize sound waves – Like other waves, sound waves are also characterized by wavelength which defined as the distance between two consecutive crests or trough
Frequency is the no. of waves that pass a fixed point per second and is also defined as the speed of the vibrations. Pitch of the sound is defined based on the frequency of sound waves and is a measure of how fast the sound wave is making the air particles vibrate. Thus high pitch means high speed vibrations and vice-versa
Amplitude of sound waves is the measure of height of the sound wave and is the maximum measured displacement of vibrating particles; it defines the loudness of sound wave, higher the amplitude, louder is the sound
Wavelength of sound waves
The wavelength of sound as discussed above is the distance between two consecutive crests and troughs and is defined as the distance the sound wave travels before the next wave arrives. The wavelength of sound waves that are audible to human ears varies between a range of 17mm to 17m.
Significance of Wavelength of Sound Waves
The wavelength of sound wave is an important parameter as it helps us determine how the sound wave travels through different objects. It is important to note that when a sound wave is incident upon an object that has a size smaller than the wavelength of the incident sound wave, the sound wave bends around the object. If the obect size or particle size is greater than the wavelength of the incident sound wave then the sound wave is reflected by the object and not allowed to pass.
Example: A sound wave of wavelength 5mm travelling through air will not be affected by any particle that has a size less than 5mm but if the particle size is greater than 5mm, the object will interfere with sound wave or can also completely block it.
The wavelength of sound waves relate the size of different objects with which the sound wave interacts to the frequencies of sound waves.
Like other waves the frequency and wavelength of sound waves are related by the expression f=v/\lambdaf=v/Î», where f is the frequency of the sound wave, v is the travel velocity and Î» is the wavelength. From the expression it is eveident that the frequency and wavelength of the sound waves are inversely related
Lets see an example on how the wavelength determines the behaviour of the sound wave, consider that you live in an apartment and you have neighbours that are noisy. When your neighbours turn up the stereo device you might be able to hear the bass sound clearly. This is because the bass sound is low frequency which means large wavelength and hence can travel through the thick plaster wall between your and the neighbours apartment. However the higher notes which have high frequency and low wavelength are faintly heard as they are blocked by the wall
Wavelength of sound can also help determine the direction from where the sound is coming. In the case of wavelengths less than 30cm, when a person hears the sound of this limited wavelength, the head functions as screen and if the sound comes from the left side the head will not allow it to go to the right instantly and the sound takes time to reach the right ear. This time lag is registered by our brain and informs us that the sound is coming from a source that is to the left of our face
It is also important to note that wavelength of sound is a very essential property of sound wave and it also affects the way the sound is generated. For speakers that are smaller than the wavelength, the sound is spread evenly in all directions, but for speakers larger than the wavelenth, the sound becomes directional
Different wavelength of sound waves are used in different applications, like ultrasound technique uses smal wavelength sound waves, which are so small that their reflections are used to image the inside of the human body
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