Some students find it much easier to conceptualise the motion of a transverse wave compared to a longitudinal one.

Light, Sound and Waves


Resources to Address This

  • Waves with trolleys (11-16)

    Ref - Practical Physics; Waves; Mechanical waves and superposition;

    Lines of dynamics trolleys connected by springs make good models for both longitudinal and transverse waves. 

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  • Episode 309: Generating waves  (16-19)

    Ref - TAP; Teaching vibrations and waves;

    This episode introduces the idea that vibrations can give rise to disturbances travelling outwards, i.e. to progressive waves. It shows some of the basic properties of waves.  Springs are used to illustrate both transverse and longitudinal waves.

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The following studies have documented this misconception:’

  • Fazio, C., Guastella, I., Sperandeo-Mineo, R.M. and Tarantino, G. () Measuring longitudinal wave speed in solids: two methods and a half, European Journal of Physics, 27,



    Review sheet

  • Houle, M.E. and Barnett, G.M. () Students’ Conceptions of Sound Waves Resulting from the Enactment of a New Technology-Enhanced Inquiry-Based Curriculum on Urban Bird Communication, Journal of Science Education Technology, 17,


    Review sheet

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