How to Calculate the Period of a Wave

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Many scientific disciplines incorporate the concepts of waves, frequencies and periods. Physicists, engineers and astronomers study and work with wave energy. Examples of wave energy include light waves from a faraway galaxy, radio waves received by a cell phone and the acoustical waves from an orchestra. Regardless of the wave’s source, the relationship between the wave’s frequency and period are the same. A wave period is the time in seconds between two wave peaks and is inversely proportional to frequency.

Things You'll Need

  • microphone
  • oscilloscope
  • oscilloscope leads
  • Connect the microphone output to the oscilloscope leads.

  • Count the number of times the wave’s peak occurs in a given time period. Adjust the input controls on the oscilloscope to make the wave easy to see.

  • Divide the number of waves by the length of time in seconds.

    For example, if you count 10 waves in 2 seconds, the frequency is 10 divided by 2, which equals 5 per second, or 5 Hertz.

  • Calculate the inverse of the frequency to obtain the wave’s period. For example, 1 divided by 5 Hertz is equal to a period of 0.2 seconds.

Tips & Warnings

  • Depending upon the type of wave you are measuring, you may need a sensor other than a microphone.
  • You can also count the number of oscilloscope display divisions between two adjacent peaks of the wave, which will directly give you the period.

References

  • Photo Credit Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images
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