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Transverse Waves Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Shoshana Yarin

Shoshana has taught all grades with an emphasis in science and has a master's degree in science.

From a waving flag to ocean waves, waves are a form of moving energy. Both the flag and the ocean waters need the energy of the wind to make waves. What other kind of waves are there? Learn about transverse waves in this lesson.

What Is a Transverse Wave?

Imagine being lost at sea on a small boat during a storm. You can probably picture your little boat riding up and down on big waves. (That's enough to make anyone seasick, aye!) Those waves are the result of a lot of wind energy pushing the water around. Now think of smaller waves, like when you drop a pebble into a puddle or shake a string back and forth.

Boat on the Waves
Boat on Waves

These kind of waves are all called transverse waves. Transverse waves are the transfer of energy in a motion that is perpendicular to the direction the wave is traveling. (Perpendicular means it forms a square corner or a cross.) In other words, if your boat in the ocean was traveling west, the ocean waves would be going up and down, or north and south.

Wave on String
String Wave

More Examples of Transverse Waves

Ocean waves and a wiggling string are just a couple of examples of what transverse waves look like. But most transverse waves are actually a form of energy that we can't see, like heat or light. Transverse waves can happen on the surface of a liquid or go through a solid.

Do you ever turn on lights, talk on the phone, heat food in a microwave, watch television or listen to the radio? How do those signals get from their source to you (or your food)? You guessed it, transverse waves. Each of these examples represents a form of energy traveling in waves, and they all travel at the same speed. They also have their differences. If they weren't different, what a jumbled mess our world would be! Some waves are tall, some are small, some are close together and some are far apart.

Different Waves
Different Waves

Another example of a transverse wave is the energy released by an earthquake. When Earth's crustal plates slip or grind together quickly, they release energy in waves. Transverse waves traveling through the ground can destroy roads, bridges or buildings. They are also the cause of huge ocean waves called tsunamis.

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