Progressive Wave
Light, Sound and Waves

Vibrator to generate continuous waves

Practical Activity for 14-16 PRACTICAL PHYISCS

Demonstration

Some ripple tank experiments previously done with wave pulses can be repeated with continuous waves, either plane or circular. Continuous straight waves are also used in other experiment collections in the Waves topic.

Apparatus and Materials

  • Ripple tank and accessories


  • Motor mounted on beam, with beam support
  • Rubber bands, 2
  • Leads, one set, to motor
  • Dipper
  • Dry cells, 2
  • Rheostat

Health & Safety and Technical Notes

Beware of water on the laboratory floor. Make sure you have a sponge and bucket handy to mop up spills immediately.

Place the power supply for the lamp on a bench, not on the floor by the tank.

Read our standard health & safety guidance


Power for the motor:

The motor works well from a 1.5 volt cell in series with a 12-ohm rheostat. Two cells may be needed for the higher speeds but the motor then goes rather fast with the rheostat set at its minimum value. The polarity of the battery determines the direction of rotation, but that is immaterial. (If a battery with a higher e.m.f. is used, a rheostat with a correspondingly high resistance would be required.)

Some manufacturers supply special power units for use with the ripple tanks. These provide the necessary voltage for the lamps and also a variable voltage output to drive the motors. They avoid the need for a transformer to light the lamp and a separate supply for the motors and some teachers may prefer to use them despite the extra cost.

Procedure

    To produce circular waves:
  1. Take the wooden beam with the motor attached and hang it by two rubber bands of such length that the wood is above the water.
  2. Attach a small spherical dipper to the vibrator by its L-shaped rod and adjust it so that the bottom of the sphere is about level with the surface of the water.
  3. At low frequencies, it is easy to see the waves; but at higher frequencies the persistence of vision obscures them. Blinking makes them visible.
  4. To produce straight waves:
  5. Remove the dipper and re-adjust the height of the wooden beam so that the beam itself is about level with the surface of the water. When the beam is set vibrating, straight waves will travel across the ripple tank. If the beam is too deep in the water (or sitting on its glass bottom!) the ripples do not travel very far; if it is too shallow and the vibration is vigorous, the ripples are less distinct near the vibrator.

Teaching Notes

  • You will find that some experiments are best done with pulses only, as the reflections from continuous waves produce confusing patterns.
  • For best results, the filament of the lamp should be parallel to the ripples.
  • If the wooden rod does not vibrate enough, increase the eccentric loading on the shaft of the motor.

This experiment was safety-tested in February 2006

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