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Chapter 17

THE PRINCIPLE OF LINEAR SUPERPOSITION AND


INTERFERENCE PHENOMENA

PREVIEW

When two waves meet in the same medium they combine to form a new wave by the
principle of superposition. The result of superposition is called interference. If the two
waves are in phase at a point, they will interfere constructively. At a point where the two
waves are out of phase they will interfere destructively. Places where maximum
constructive and destructive interference are occurring are called antinodes and nodes,
respectively. Interference can be caused by point sources, or by a wave passing through a
single – slit opening or a double – slit opening. Interference in a vibrating string, open
pipe, or closed pipe produces resonance conditions called harmonics and overtones.

The content contained in sections 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, and 8 of chapter 17 of the textbook is


included on the AP Physics B exam.

QUICK REFERENCE

Important Terms

antinode
a point of constructive interference and maximum reinforcement in a standing
wave
beat
variations in the loudness of sounds due to the slight difference in frequency of
interfering waves
closed pipe resonator
a pipe closed at one end and a sound source at the other, causing the sound to
resonate
constructive interference
addition of two or more waves which are in phase, resulting in a wave of
increased amplitude
destructive interference
addition of two or more waves which are out of phase resulting in a wave of
decreased amplitude
diffraction
the spreading of a wave beyond the edge of a barrier or through an opening
harmonics
the combination of several simultaneous frequencies that produce a distinct
standing wave pattern

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in phase
term applied to two or more waves whose crests and troughs arrive at a place at
the same time in such a way as to produce constructive interference
interference of waves
displacements of two or more waves in the same medium at the same time
producing either larger or smaller waves
node
the point of no displacement in a standing wave
out of phase
term applied to two or more waves for which the crest of one wave arrives at a
point at the same time as the trough of a second wave arrives, producing
destructive interference
overtone
a resonance condition (standing wave) which is above the fundamental
principle of superposition
the displacement due to two or more interfering waves is equal to the sum of the
displacement of the individual waves
standing wave
wave with stationary nodes produced by two identical waves traveling in opposite
directions in the same medium at the same time

Equations and Symbols



sin  
D
 v 
f n  n  n  1,2,3,4,... (vibrating string and open tube)
 2L 
 v 
f n  n  n  1,3,5,... (closed tube)
 4L 
where
θ = the angle of spread of a wave after passing through a single slit opening
λ = wavelength
fn = the nth frequency in a series of resonant frequencies
v = speed of the wave
L = length
D = width of an opening through which a wave will diffract

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Ten Homework Problems

Chapter 17 Problems 1, 2, 3, 10, 24, 26, 29, 33, 49, 52

DISCUSSION OF SELECTED SECTIONS

17.1 The Principle of Linear Superposition

When two or more waves pass through each other in the same medium at the same time
they interfere, as shown in the diagrams on the opening pages of chapter 17 in your
textbook. Two waves meeting on the same side of the spring will interfere constructively,
producing an antinode, and two waves meeting on opposite sides of the spring will
interfere destructively and cancel the waves momentarily, producing a node. Either way,
the principle of superposition states that any two waves which meet at a point may be
added (or subtracted, if they meet on opposite sides). We say that two waves which
interfere constructively are in phase, and two waves that interfere destructively are out of
phase.

17.2 Constructive and Destructive Interference of Sound Waves

Have you ever sat in a room or auditorium in a place where it was difficult to hear the
speaker? Like other waves, sound waves interfere constructively and destructively as they
are produced and reflected around a room. For two sound waves which are in phase (crest
on crest), the path difference between the waves is either zero or a whole number of
wavelengths apart (Fig. A):

Fig. A Waves in phase


For two sound waves which are out of phase (crest on trough),
Fig. B Wavesthe
outpath difference
of phase
between the waves is a half-number of wavelengths apart (Fig. B). Example 1 in your
textbook is a good illustration of whether waves arrive at a particular point in phase or
out of phase.

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17.3 Diffraction

As a wave passes through an opening, the middle of the wave is unhindered, but the
outside edges drag on the sides of the opening, momentarily slowing those points on the
wave down. Thus, the sides of the wave lag behind the center of the wave, and a circular
wave pattern is produced as the wave exits the opening. The bending of a wave through
an opening or around a barrier is called diffraction.

Waves Intensity

1st min
θ
D Central max
θ
1st min

The relationship between D, λ, and θ is



sin  
D

Notice that if the wavelength is small compared to the size of the opening, the diffraction
angle is small, and we may not notice much diffraction, that is, the wave will pass
through the opening unhindered.

Example 1
Sound is passed through a tall narrow doorway (width D = 1.0 m) in a wall on a stage in
an auditorium. A singer stands behind the doorway and sings a high-C pitch (f = 512 Hz).

(a) What is the wavelength of the high-C pitch?

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Your friend really enjoys listening to this particular singer, but you do not. Your friend
sits directly in from of the doorway at a distance L = 15 m.

Waves Intensity

y
D

How far (y) away from your friend should you sit in order to hear the least intense sound
waves from the singer?

Solution
v 343 m / s
(a)   f  512 Hz  0.67 m

 y
(b) sin   , and sin   . So,
D L
y 

L D
L  0.67 m 15 m 
y   10 m
D 1.0 m

Another type of standing wave is produced when waves are passed through two openings,
called a double-slit, and an interference pattern results. The semi-circular wave patterns
which emerge from the slits interfere with each other, creating nodes and antinodes. We
will return to double-slit diffraction patterns in chapter 27.

17.5 Transverse Standing Waves

The term standing wave is an oxymoron, since waves must move and never stand still.
But waves can appear to stand still when two identical waves traveling in opposite
directions in the same medium at the same time create a series of nodes and antinodes.
Consider a rope tied to a wall. If we send a wave down the rope toward the wall, the
wave reflects off the wall on the opposite side from which it was sent, according to the
law of reflection.

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If we continue to send regular waves down the rope and they continue to reflect off the
wall, the incident and reflected waves will reinforce each other in some places and cancel
each other in other places. The result is a series of antinodes (loops) where constructive
interference is occurring, and nodes (points of no displacement between the loops) where
destructive interference is occurring, and we call the pattern produced a standing wave.

A N A N A

The pattern above, called a harmonic or overtone, shows three antinodes (loops), and
3
occupies of a wavelength.
2

Example 2
A string is attached to a vibrating machine which has a frequency of 120 Hz. The other
end of the string is passed over a pulley of negligible mass and friction and is attached to
a weight hanger which holds a mass m = 0.5 kg.

(a) Determine the tension in the string.


(b) The speed of the wave in the string is related to the tension by the equation
FT
v  , where FT is the tension in the string and μ is the linear density of the string. If

the linear density of this string is 0.05 kg/m, determine the speed of the wave in the
string.

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(c) Determine the wavelength of the wave in the string.
(d) Determine the length of the string from the point of attachment on the vibrating
machine to the pulley.
(e) Would you need to increase or decrease the mass on the hanger to produce a lower
number of loops? Explain.

Solution
 
(a) FT  mg   0.5kg  10 m / s 2  5 N
FT 5N
(b) v    100 m / s
 0.05 kg / m
v 100 m / s
(c)   f  120 Hz  0.83 m
(d) L  3  3 0.83 m   2.5 m
(e) A lower number of loops would imply a longer wavelength, which would require a
higher speed, which would require a higher tension in the string, which would require
increasing the mass on the hanger.

17.6 Longitudinal Standing Waves

An open pipe is one in which both ends of the pipe are open. If we send a sound wave
into the pipe and let it reflect off of the air at other end, it will return to the original end of
the pipe. If we continually send sound waves down into the pipe to match the rate at
which they are being reflected off the closed end, we will set up a resonance condition,
that is, a standing wave. as shown in the figure below:

A N A A N A N A

1st Harmonic 2nd Harmonic


Fundamental Overtone 1st Overtone

A standing wave pattern is set up in the open pipe, having a series of nodes and
antinodes. Note that there is an antinode at either end of the pipe. When a standing sound
wave fits inside the pipe this way, we hear a louder pitch than when the sound does not fit
inside the pipe. We say that the sound is resonating inside the pipe.

Note that in the first harmonic of the open pipe, ½ of a wavelength just fits inside the
length of the pipe. In the 2nd harmonic, one full wavelength just fits inside the pipe.

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1st Harmonic
Fundamental Overtone
3rd Harmonic
1st Overtone
5th Harmonic
2nd Overtone

A closed pipe is one in which one end of the pipe (bottom) is closed and the other end is
open (top). If we send a sound wave into the pipe and let it reflect off of the closed end, it
will return to the top of the pipe, as shown in the figures above. This results in an
antinode at the top open end of the pipe, and a node at the bottom closed end. Again,
when a standing sound wave fits inside the pipe this way, we hear a louder pitch
(resonance) than when the sound does not fit inside the pipe.

Note that in the 1st harmonic of the closed pipe, ¼ of a wavelength just fits inside the
length of the pipe, ¾ wavelength for the 3rd harmonic, and 5/4 of a wavelength for the 5th
harmonic. The harmonics are named after each quarter-wavelength that fits in the pipe as
the sound resonates.

If we know the frequency of the sound waves and the length of the pipe, we can find their
wavelength and then their speed by v = f. The relationships among all these quantities in
a resonating pipe are illustrated in the review questions that follow.

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CHAPTER 17 REVIEW QUESTIONS
For each of the multiple choice questions below, choose the best answer.

Questions 1 – 2:

2. Which of the following diagrams best


represents the shape of the rope just after
P the two waves have completely passed
1. Two waves approach each other in the through the region between points P and
Q time,
same rope at the same Q?
as shown. When the two waves are
exactly between points P and Q, the (A)
shape of the rope will be

(A) P
(B)
Q
(B)

P
(C)
Q
Q
P
(C)
(D)

P Q
(D)

(E)

(E) 3. In general, the higher the frequency


of the interfering waves,
(A) the higher the wavelength
(B) the higher the speed of the waves
(C) the greater the number of nodes and
antinodes.
(D) the smaller the number of nodes and
antinodes.
(E) the higher the amplitude of the
waves.

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4. Diffraction 7. Which of the following is true of a
(A) is the bending of a wave when it sound which is resonating in a pipe
changes media which is closed at one end?
(B) is the reflection of a wave off of a (A) Nodes are formed at both ends of the
barrier pipe
(C) is the combining of two identical (B) Antinodes are formed at both ends of
waves moving in the same medium the pipe
(D) is the bending of a wave around an (C) An antinode is formed at the closed
obstacle or through an opening end of the pipe and a node is formed
(E) only produces constructive at the open end.
interference (D) An antinode is formed at the open
end of the pipe and a node is formed
5. Wave A having a wavelength of 2 cm at the closed end.
passes through an opening which is 1 cm (E) A sound wave cannot resonate in a
wide. Wave B has a wavelength of 4 cm pipe which is closed at only one end.
and passes through the same opening at
a different time. The angle of spread θA 8. A N A
for wave A compared to the angle of
spread θB for wave B can be described
by
(A) θA > θB
(B) θB > θA
(C) θA = θB 1st Harmonic
(D) θA + θB = 90 Fundamental Overtone
(E) θA - θB = 90
The figure above represents the 1st
harmonic for an open pipe. If the length
1.5 m of the pipe is 40 cm, the wavelength of
the sound wave resonating inside the
pipe is
(A) 10 cm
(B) 20 cm
(C) 40 cm
(D) 80 cm
6. A standing wave is produced in a (E) 160 cm
vibrating string as shown. If the length
of the string is 1.5 m and the frequency
of the vibrating motor is 60 Hz, the
speed of the wave is
(A) 15 m/s
(B) 20 m/s
(C) 40 m/s
(D) 60 m/s
(E) 90 m/s

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Free Response Question

Directions: Show all work in working the following question. The question is worth 10
points, and the suggested time for answering the question is about 10 minutes. The parts
within a question may not have equal weight.

1. (10 points)

A N A N A

2nd Harmonic
1st Overtone
A sound wave resonates inside an open pipe filled with air at room temperature, as shown
above. The length of the pipe is 33 cm.

(a) Determine the wavelength of the resonating sound wave.


(b) Determine the frequency of the tuning fork.
(c) Determine the next higher frequency that will resonate in a pipe of this length.

1st Harmonic
Fundamental Overtone
(d) If the open pipe is replaced with a pipe which is closed at one end, what would have
to be the length of the closed pipe for the original tuning fork to resonate at its
fundamental frequency?

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ANSWERS AND EXPLANATIONS TO CHAPTER 17 REVIEW QUESTIONS

Multiple Choice

1. B
The two waves are in phase (crest on crest), and so they will constructively interfere and
produce a larger wave between points P and Q.

2. A
After passing through the region between points P and Q, the waves will simply have
switched places, and since they are identical, the rope appears as it did before the waves
met.

3. C
More frequency results in more waves interfering with each other, producing more nodes
and antinodes.

4. D
A wave diffracts when it must go around an obstacle or through an opening.

5. B
The longer wavelength passing through the same opening will have a greater angle of
spread.

6. D
The wavelength is the length of two loops and is 1 m. The speed of the wave is v = f =
(60 Hz)(1 m) = 60 m/s.

7. D
The wave is reflected off the closed end, creating a node at the closed end and an
antinode at the open end.

8. D
The wave pattern in the 40-cm pipe represents half of a wavelength. Thus, the
wavelength is 2(40 cm) = 80 cm.

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Free Response Question Solution

(a) 2 points
One wavelength just fits inside the pipe for the 2nd harmonic, so L = λ = 33 cm.

(b) 3 points
v 343 m / s
f    1029 Hz
 0.33m

(c) 3 points

The next higher frequency would correspond


A N A N A
to two wavelengths in the pipe. Thus, L = 2λ,
and λ = ½ L = 16.5 cm. The speed of sound
is 343 m/s, so the next higher frequency is

v 343 m / s
f    2058 Hz
 0.165 m

This is simply twice the original frequency.

(d) 2 points
The first resonance condition in a closed pipe requires the length of the pipe to be one-
quarter the wavelength, or

1 1
L    33 cm  8.25 cm
4 4

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Chapter 17 The Principle of Linear Siperposition and Interference Phenomena