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This article is about waves in the scientific sense. For waves on the surface of the ocean or lakes, see Wind wave. For other uses, see Wave (disambiguation).

In physics, a wave is an oscillation accompanied by a transfer of energy that travels through space or mass. Frequency refers to the addition of time. Wave motion transfers energy from one point to another, which may or may not displace particles of the medium—that is, with little or no associated mass transport. Waves consist, instead, of oscillations or vibrations (of a physical quantity), around almost fixed locations.

There are two main types of waves. Mechanical waves propagate through a medium, and the substance of this medium is deformed. The deformation reverses itself owing to restoring forces resulting from its deformation. For example, sound waves propagate via air molecules colliding with their neighbors. When air molecules collide, they also bounce away from each other (a restoring force). This keeps the molecules from continuing to travel in the direction of the wave.

The second main type of wave, electromagnetic waves, do not require a medium. Instead, they consist of periodic oscillations of electrical and magnetic fields generated by charged particles, and can therefore travel through a vacuum. These types of waves vary in wavelength, and include radio waves, microwaves, infrared radiation, visible light, ultraviolet radiation, X-rays, and gamma rays.

Waves are described by a wave equation which sets out how the disturbance proceeds over time. The mathematical form of this equation varies depending on the type of wave. Further, the behavior of particles in quantum mechanics are described by waves. In addition, gravitational waves also travel through space, which are a result of a vibration or movement in gravitational fields.

A wave can be transverse or longitudinal. Transverse waves occur when a disturbance creates oscillations that are perpendicular to the propagation of energy transfer. Longitudinal waves occur when the oscillations are parallel to the direction of energy propagation. While mechanical waves can be both transverse and longitudinal, all electromagnetic waves are transverse in free space.


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