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4.1. Oscillations

Back in Chapter 2 we started looking at motion, but mostly concerned with stuff moving in a straight line. Now we start to look at stuff oscillating; i.e. moving backwards and forwards. In Physics there are loads of examples of oscillatory motion, but one of the most commonly studied examples is that of a pendulum. A pendulum has a very well defined time period (the time taken to swing back and forth) - the reason behind their historical use in clocks. This regular time period is determined by the length of the pendulum (and perhaps counter intuitively, is NOT affected by the mass of the bob). Some YouTubers have also used some of these interesting properties to make some cool videos of ‘pendulum waves’ – see below.

Now, this subchapter lays a lot of the groundwork for a lot of the upcoming waves material. It has been broken up as follows:

 

Periodic Motion

Periodic motion looks at movement backwards and forwards at a certain frequency. Let's start by looking at a nice simple example - a rubber duck bobbing up and down on water.

Here we can introduce a few key bits of terminology:

  • The Time Period : the time taken for one complete oscillation, in seconds.

  • Frequency : The number of oscillations per second, measured in Hertz, Hz.

These are linked by the equation

f = 1/T  (...or T = 1/f)

rubberduck.png

If we were to plot the position of the rubber duck over time, we obtain the following relationship as shown below. The duck oscillates about the 'equilibrium position'. The vertical position of the duck is also known as the displacement, measured as the vertical distance from the equilibrium position.

positiontime2.png

This representation is a displacement-time representation - showing how the rubber duck oscillates up and down over time. The amplitude is the position of maximum displacement (measured from the equilibrium position). The time period is the time taken for the duck to move through one complete oscillation back to the same point.

Clearly, this graphical representation is very similar to what you will have looked at in maths with your trigonometric relationships. The graphs of both sine and cosine oscillate in a similar way. In fact, we can represent waves and oscillating motion with either sine or cos graphs. If you are rusty on these, it's worth brushign up on them here.

Video Lessons

Chris Doner
Oscillations
IB Specific
Khan Academy
Amplitude and Period
Physics Online
Wave Definitions

Resources

IB Physics
Topic 4 Notes
IB-Physics.net
Chapter 4 Summary
IB Revision Notes
Mr. G
4.1 Teaching Notes
4.1 Student Notes
Physics and Maths Tutor
Waves Definitions
Waves Key Points
Waves Detailed Notes
Waves Progressive & Standing Waves
A Level Resources - content slightly different

Questions

Cambridge University Press
Topic 4: Add Qs
Topic 4: Add Qs MS
Topic 4: MCQs
CUP Website Link
Freely available online
Grade Gorilla
Topic 4 (Waves A) End Quiz
Quick IB Specific Mixed MCQs
Mr. G
4.1 Formative Assessment
Topic 4 Summary Qs
IB Specific Questions
 

Simple Harmonic Motion

Simple harmonic motion (or SHM) is a type of oscillatory motion. Objects following simple harmonic motion have a displacement-time graph similar to that of the rubber duck - obeying our trigonometric mathematical relationships.

There are many examples of objects that follow SHM, such as:

  • A pendulum swinging

  • A mass bouncing on a spring

  • A ball rolling in a curved dish

  • A ruler vibrating off the side of a bench when 'pinged'.

Let's start with looking at a mass on a spring - it's a really common example of SHM behaviour and introduces some of the main points quite nicely. PHET have a nice simulation on Mass-Spring Systems. Click the second tab marked Vectors and take a look in particular at how the Net Force and Acceleration vectors vary with time in relation to the equilibrium position. 

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We see that as the mass moves above the equilibrium position (i.e. has a positive displacement), the restoring force acts downwards towards the equilibrium position. The acceleration acts in the same direction as this restoring force (in a downwards, negative direction). The greater the displacement from the equilibrium, the greater the restoring force.

This is one of the key characteristics of SHM.

The acceleration (and restoring force) is proportional to, and in the opposite direction to the displacement.

x ∝ -a

This is the same for all objects following simple harmonic motion. For a pendulum, the restoring force always acts towards the equilibrium position. Graphically, this obeys the following relationship.

SHMgraph.png

Plotting the position of the mass spring system against time and we observe an identical relationship to the rubber duck floating on a water wave. The key words we associate with wave motion - e.g. frequency and time period can equally be used to describe this oscillatory motion of a bouncing mass on a spring.

We look in much more detail at Simple Harmonic Motion in Section 9.1 (HL Only), where we bring in some of the trigonometric maths to model this behaviour.

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Geogebra has a couple of nice simulations that clearly demonstrate the mathematical relationships behind SHM.

1) SHM Tutorial : This tutorial nicely explains a few of the key mathematical ideas here.

2) SHM Graphs : This clearly shows the trigonometric relationships we can use to model simple harmonic motion.  

Video Lessons

Chris Doner
Oscillations (SHM)
IB Specific
Khan Academy
Simple Harmonic Motion Intuition
Science Shorts
Simple Harmonic Motion Intro
Equations go beyond IB
Study Nova
SHM Intro (Lecture)

Resources

IB Physics
Topic 4 Notes
IB-Physics.net
Chapter 4 Summary
IB Revision Notes
Isaac Physics
SHM Introduction
Only first 2 sections SL
Khan Academy
SHM Introduction
Mr. G
4.1 Teaching Notes
4.1 Student Notes
Physics and Maths Tutor
Further Mechanics Definitions
Further Mechanics Key Points
Further Mechanics Detailed Notes
Further Mechanics Flashcards
A Level Resources - content slightly different

Questions

Cambridge University Press
Topic 4: Add Qs
Topic 4: Add Qs MS
Topic 4: MCQs
CUP Website Link
Freely available online
Grade Gorilla
4.1 (SHM) MCQ
Topic 4 (Waves A) End Quiz
Quick IB Specific Mixed MCQs
Isaac Physics
Oscillators
Some may be beyond SL
Khan Academy
SHM Introduction Q
Mr. G
4.1 Formative Assessment
Topic 4 Summary Qs
IB Specific Questions
 

Phase and Phase Difference

This last section introduces a new idea that is important to get our heads around before looking at the new ideas related to waves. 

A Level Physics Online introduces the concepts of Phase and Phase Difference below:

To begin with, we need to recap our graphs for sine and cosine. One graphs repeat after a period of 360° or  ​2π radians, as shown below. 

phase1.png

Now let's add a second wave of the same frequency and time period, shown in red in the graph below. We can see that these waves are not quite in-sync, and the red wave 'lags' slightly behind the orange wave.

Here, we introduce a term called Phase Difference to measure the amount of 'lag' between one oscillation and another. Phase difference is typically measured in radians (rather than degrees). (e.g. Wave A and Wave B have a phase difference of π/4 radians between them).

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A couple more examples are shown below.

  • In the top of the two graphs, the oscillations are both oscillating in-time and in-sync. These two waves have no phase difference between them (Φ = 0) and are said to be IN PHASE.

  • In the bottom graph, the oscillations are both exactly 'opposite' one another - i.e. one reaches its maximum positive displacement when the other reaches its maximum negative displacement. These two waves have a phase difference of π radians between them (Φ = π) and are said to be IN ANTIPHASE.

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These ideas of phase difference will become important when we look at the next sections with some ideas to do with wave interference. 

You can get a little glimpse at what happens when we change the phase difference between two waves by playing around with this Geogebra simulation.

Video Lessons

Chris Doner
Oscillations (Phase)
IB Specific
Khan Academy
Phase Constant
Science Shorts
Phase Difference

Resources

IB Physics
Topic 4 Notes
IB-Physics.net
Chapter 4 Summary
IB Revision Notes
Isaac Physics
Phase
Phasors not required
Mr. G
4.1 Teaching Notes
4.1 Student Notes
Physics and Maths Tutor
Waves Definitions
Waves Key Points
Waves Detailed Notes
Waves Progressive & Standing Waves
A Level Resources - content slightly different

Questions

Cambridge University Press
Topic 4: Add Qs
Topic 4: Add Qs MS
Topic 4: MCQs
CUP Website Link
Freely available online
Grade Gorilla
Topic 4 (Waves A) End Quiz
Quick IB Specific Mixed MCQs
Isaac Physics
Path Difference
Mixed Questions
Mr. G
4.1 Formative Assessment
Topic 4 Summary Qs
IB Specific Questions
 

Additional Resources

IB Questions

A question by question breakdown of the IB papers by year is shown below to allow you to filter questions by topic. Hopefully you have access to many of these papers through your school system. If available, there may be some links to online sources of questions, though please be patient if the links are broken! (DrR: If you do find some broken links, please contact me through the site)

 

Questions on this topic (Section 4) are shown in light blue.

Use this grid to practice past IB questions topic by topic. You can see from the colours how similar the question topic breakdown is year by year. The more you can familiarise yourself with the IB question style the better - eventually you will come to spot those tricks and types of questions that reappear each year.