IB Physics Standards: Items directly related to the standards are shown in blue

Topic 4 and 11: SL and HL Waves 



Essential Question: Could wireless communication have developed without an understanding of the physics?


Traveling Waves

  1. Describe a wave pulse and a continuous traveling wave.

  2. Understand that there is no net motion of the medium through which the wave travels.

  3. State that waves transfer energy.

  4. Describe and give examples of transverse and longitudinal waves.

  1. Describe waves in two dimensions, including the concepts of wave fronts and rays.



Essential Question: I?



Wave characteristics

  1. Define displacement, amplitude, period, frequency, wavelength and wave speed.

  2. Describe the terms crest, trough, compression and rarefaction.

  3. Draw and explain displacement–time and displacement–position graphs for transverse and longitudinal waves.

  4. Derive and apply the relationship between wave speed, wavelength and frequency.

 v = l f



Essential Question: Is the speed of light constant?


Wave Properties 

Reflection, refraction and transmission of waves

  1. Sketch incident, reflected and transmitted waves, and the cases of reflection at free and fixed ends.

  2. Describe the reflection and transmission of one-dimensional waves at a boundary between two media.

  3. State Huygens’ (Pronunciation: 'hI-g&nz) principle.
  4. Every point on a wave-front may be considered a source of secondary spherical wavelets which spread out in the forward direction at the speed of the wave. The new wave-front is the tangential surface to all of these secondary wavelets.
  5. Apply Huygens’ principle to two-dimensional plane waves to show that the angle of incidence is equal to the angle of reflection.
  6. Explain refraction using Huygens’ principle.
  7. Define refractive index or index of refraction.

n = (speed of light in a vacuum) / (speed of light in the media)

  1. Derive Snell’s law for refraction using Huygens’ principle.

  2. State and apply Snell’s law.

n1 sin( θ1) = n2 sin(θ2)



n = index of refraction

   = (speed of light in a vacuum) / (speed of light in the media)


θ = incident angle


Essential Question: Can sound go around corners?


Wave diffraction and interference


  1. Explain and discuss qualitatively, using Huygens’ principle, the diffraction of waves by apertures and obstacles.

  2. Discuss the effect on diffraction and interference of wavelength compared to obstacle size or aperture size.

  3. Describe examples of diffraction.

  4. State the principle of superposition and explain what is meant by constructive and destructive interference (only one-dimensional situations).

  5. Apply the principle of superposition to find the resultant of two waves.



Essential Question: How do we know the universe is expanding?



Doppler effect


  1. Describe the Doppler effect for both light and sound.

f = f0[ (v + vr) / (v + vs) ]


v = velocity of wave in the medium (air for sound)

vr = velocity of the receiver of the wave

vs= velocity of the source of the wave

f0= frequency of the wave when vr= vs=0


For moving source, wave length changes--shorter when moving toward, longer when moving away

For moving receiver, velocity changes--faster when moving toward, longer when moving away

Doppler Effect



Essential Question: I?



Standing Waves

  1. Describe the nature of standing waves. 

  2. Explain the formation of standing waves in one dimension.

  3. Compare standing waves and traveling waves.



Essential Question: How do pipe organs work?


Boundary conditions and resonance (Core)

  1. Explain the concept of resonance and state the conditions necessary for resonance to occur.
  1. Define the term damping and state how it affects resonance. Damping is the process of doing work so that a vibration's mechanical energy is converted into heat. If the damping is high enough, an object will not resonate. The damping force that does work acts in the opposite direction of velocity.
  2. Give examples of resonant systems.


    • swing--for large angles, the resonant frequency changes, hence limiting the amplitude
    • pendulum--for large angles, the resonant frequency changes, hence limiting the amplitude
    • spring and mass
    • pipe organ
    • bells


    • antennae
    • LC circuit
  3. Explain a simple way to evaluate an object's resonant frequency. Hit it with a hammer or in other words, give it a pulse of energy.
  4. Note that fundamental frequency and first harmonic are interchangeable terms. An object's natural frequencies are the same thing as its harmonics.
  5. Solve problems involving the fundamental and higher harmonic modes.



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  • the basics of orbiting
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