Mechanical Waves Lesson for Kids: Definition & Facts

Instructor: Suzanne Rose

Suzanne has taught all levels PK-graduate school and has a PhD in Instructional Systems Design. She currently teachers literacy courses to preservice and inservice teachers.

You might not realize it, but you are surrounded by waves every day! There are several different kinds of waves. In this lesson, you'll learn about mechanical waves and find out what they do.

What Are Mechanical Waves?

What happens when a raindrop falls into a pool of water? You can see ripples form where the raindrop hits the water. What makes those ripples?

Ripples in water are mechanical waves.

Those ripples are actually mechanical waves! To start a mechanical wave, some energy source has to disturb matter. The matter can be any solid, liquid or gas. When the raindrop hits the water, the energy starts the ripple (or mechanical wave) moving. The energy is moved along by the wave. In our raindrop example, the matter being disturbed is water, which is a liquid.

If you knock on a solid wood door, the sound waves, which are mechanical waves, would travel through the wood and into the air on the other side of the door. The energy source that started the sound waves would be your hand hiting the wood.

How Do Waves Move?

Mechanical waves moves through matter, which is called the medium, as they take energy from one place to another. The medium can be any material that carries the wave. The medium doesn't create the waves; the waves just move through the medium as they are carrying the energy along.

In our raindrop example, the medium is the water. When you knock on a wooden door, the medium is the wood. The energy from your knock moves through the wood by waves!

Particles Help Move Waves

How do the waves move through the medium? Every medium is made up of many tiny bits called particles, which help move the wave along. One particle vibrates and bumps into the next particle, which sends the energy along. This happens over and over again; as each particle vibrates, it sends the wave on to the next particle. The particles don't move along with the waves; they just help the waves move.

If you hold on to one end of a metal coiled spring and pull on the other end, the energy will move each of the coils as the wave passes through them, and then the coils go back to their original spot.

Waves and Vacuums

Because mechanical waves need to have a medium to move through, there are no mechanical waves in vacuums. Vacuums, found in space, are places that have no matter in them. On Earth, there aren't any natural vacuums, but there are man-made vacuums scientists use in laboratories.

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