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Slinky Wave Speeds

Experiment #19 from Physics with Video Analysis

Education Level
High School


A matter wave is different from a moving particle because it is a temporary disturbance that moves through a medium such as a spring, water, or a metal bar. The disturbance can move between two locations without the matter between the locations.

In this activity you’ll be considering disturbances that move along a Slinky that is stretched and then fixed at each end. There are two types of disturbances that can travel along a stretched Slinky: [1] A few coils at one end can be pulled quickly in a direction that is perpendicular or transverse to the line of stretched coils and released; or [2] A few coils at one end can be bunched together in a longitudinal direction along the line of stretched coils and released.


In this activity, you will

  • Study movies that show transverse and longitudinal disturbances moving along a stretched Slinky lying on a very slick (low friction) floor.
  • Think about the process by which the disturbances propagate along the Slinky, measure the wave speeds, and consider what properties of the Slinky will affect the speed of the waves.

Sensors and Equipment

This experiment features the following sensors and equipment. Additional equipment may be required.

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This experiment is #19 of Physics with Video Analysis. The experiment in the book includes student instructions as well as instructor information for set up, helpful hints, and sample graphs and data.

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