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Slinky Wave Lab

Instructor: Amanda Robb

Amanda holds a Masters in Science from Tufts Medical School in Cellular and Molecular Physiology. She has taught high school Biology and Physics for 8 years.

In this lab, you'll be learning about waves using a slinky. By the end of the lab, you'll understand the relationship between two properties of waves, frequency and wavelength.

Introduction

Goal: To understand the relationship between frequency and wavelength
Age: Middle school and up
Safety Concerns: None
Time: 30 minutes

Picture a relaxing day at the beach. The ocean bobs up and down, waves crashing into the shore. Although we could just enjoy this peaceful moment, why not explain it with physics? Waves from the ocean are actually just one type of wave. Light is also a type of wave, as well as sound. Today, we'll be making transverse waves, which are waves that move up and down. Like the ocean waves you see going up and down, matter in all transverse waves moves up to a peak called a crest and then drops down to the low point called the trough. The distance between two crests is called the wavelength.

Parts of a wave
wave diagram

Another property of waves is frequency. Frequency is how many waves pass through a point per second. Waves with high frequency are compressed together and waves with a low frequency are spread out.

frequency caption=

Today, we're going to look at how these properties affect each other. Before we start, think about what will happen to wavelength if we increase frequency. Make a prediction about what you expect to see.

Materials

  • Two meter sticks
  • A way to record video (your phone or a video camera)
  • Large slinky
  • A friend to stretch your slinky with and another friend or a stand to record yourselves
  • Data table like this one:

Trial Number Wavelength Frequency
1
2
3

Steps

1. To start, lay down the two meter sticks end to end on a table. This will help you measure the wavelength in your video.

2. Stretch out your slinky with a friend. Hold the end of the slinky at the one end of the meter sticks and have your friend hold their end at the other.

3. Get your camera ready to record your experiment.

4. Shake your slinky end up and down gently. Do this for about 10 seconds.

5. Repeat this two more times, shaking the slinky more vigorously each time to increase frequency.

5. You can stop recording now. We have the data we need.

6. Watch the video and pause when you can see two crests in one frame in the first trial. Looking at the ruler in the video, measure the distance between two crests. This is the wavelength. Record this in your table for trial 1.

7. Now, let's find the frequency. Watch the video and pick one point. Count how many waves pass through that point in 10 seconds. Since frequency is waves per second, divide the number you get by 10 seconds to find the frequency. Record this in your data table for trial 1.

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