The Wave Nature of Light

  • Thomas D. RossingEmail author
  • Christopher J. Chiaverina


As was noted in Chap.  1, light exhibits a dual nature: At times, light behaves as a particle, and at other times, as a wave. In this chapter, we will examine the properties of waves and introduce the wave nature of light.


Glossary of Terms


Maximum displacement from equilibrium in a wave.


Point of maximum amplitude due to constructive interference.


Variation in the speed of a wave with frequency (or wavelength). The spreading of light into a spectrum of different colors.

Doppler effect

Change in the frequency of waves due to motion of the source, the observer, or both.


Number of waves per second.


Unit of frequency; equals one wave per second.


Superposition of two or more waves. Constructive interference occurs when the waves are in phase and therefore combine to form a larger wave; destructive interference occurs when the waves are out of phase and partially (or fully) cancel each other.

linear superposition

The resultant displacement of two waves at a point is the sum of the displacements that the two waves would separately produce at that point.


Point of minimum amplitude due to destructive interference of two waves.


An interference pattern formed by two waves of the same frequency moving in opposite directions; the pattern has alternative minima (nodes) and maxima (antinodes).

wave equation

The relationship between wave speed, frequency, and wavelength: v = fλ.

wave model of light

Light consists of electromagnetic waves.


Distancebetween adjacent crests or adjacent troughs.

Further Reading

  1. Hewitt, P. G. (2014) Conceptual Physics, 12th ed. Boston: Pearson.Google Scholar
  2. Kirkpatrick, L. D., & Wheeler, G. F. (1995). Physics: A World View, 2nd ed. Philadelphia: Saunders College Publishing.Google Scholar
  3. Raichlen, F. (2012). Waves. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.Google Scholar
  4. Rossing, T. D., Moore, F. R., & Wheeler, P. A. (2001). The Science of Sound, 3rd ed. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Thomas D. Rossing
    • 1
    Email author
  • Christopher J. Chiaverina
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Music, Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA)Stanford UniversityStanfordUSA
  2. 2.New Trier Township High SchoolWinnetkaUSA

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