top of page

Cluster 4: The Physics of Waves

Waves are prevalent in nature so understanding the physics of waves is important. It enables a description of many different types of physical phenomena. For example, the probability density waves made by electrons confined within a “box” have striking similarities to the standing waves made by a plucked guitar string. We will explore the physics of wave phenomena in these two seemingly different regimes and learn about the implications that such physics has on new technology and music. By being exposed to cutting edge research and engaging in hands-on experiments, students will learn about wave phenomena in atomically thin materials such as graphene and about mechanical waves, which are responsible for music.

Vibrations Surround Us: The Physics of Music

The study of music, using the tools, ideas, and methodology of physics, is a fruitful venture, and our understanding and appreciation of each can magnify the other. While physics is not normally characterized as an "art", it does nonetheless require the exercise of human imagination and creativity. And while music is not normally characterized as a “science,” it might be possible, in the hands of an abstract and mathematically-minded composer, to see music as something akin to science.

The study of music from a physics perspective can enrich your appreciation of music. At the heart of music is the wave, an energy-carrying disturbance that travels through particles in a given medium. You will learn how to understand music in this new and exciting way. You will come to understand many of the underlying scientific principles of music such as resonance, loudness, timbre, interference, pitch, harmonics, overtones, response of the human ear, the physical function and operation of various musical instruments, to name a few. You will see amazing demonstrations such as beautiful patterns of sand (Chlandi figures) formed on metal plates as a result of standing waves and the Ruben's Tube, a classic physics experiment involving sound, a tube of propane and fire. You will work in small groups to design and develop your own musical instrument using only vegetables donated by the UCSC farm and perform a song on this instrument. 

bottom of page