Frequency of Electromagnetic Waves

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This diagram looks at the frequency of electromagnetic waves.

Remember that:

  • The frequency of a wave should not be confused with the speed at which the wave travels or the distance it travels.
  • The term frequency refers to the measurement of the frequency of wave oscillations that pass a given point in a given amount of time.
  • The unit of measurement of frequency is the hertz. One hertz equals one wave-cycle per second.
  • Because the frequency of some electromagnetic waves is so small, Hertz is sub-divided into kilohertz, megahertz, gigahertz and terahertz.
  • The wavelength and frequency of light are closely related. In any given medium, the higher the frequency, the shorter the wavelength.
  • The amount of energy transported by a light wave increases with the frequency of oscillations (wave-cycle) and as the length of each oscillation decreases.

Description

Frequency of Electromagnetic Waves

TRY SOME QUICK QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS TO GET STARTED
The frequency of a wave is a measurement of the number of waves passing a given point in a given period of time!
The frequency of incident light is unchanged as it travels from air into water and undergoes refraction.

About the diagram

About the diagram
Remember that:
  • The frequency of a wave should not be confused with the speed at which the wave travels or the distance it travels.
  • The term frequency refers to the measurement of the frequency of wave oscillations that pass a given point in a given amount of time.
  • The unit of measurement of frequency is the hertz. One hertz equals one wave-cycle per second.
  • Because the frequency of some electromagnetic waves is so small, Hertz is sub-divided into kilohertz, megahertz, gigahertz and terahertz.
  • The wavelength and frequency of light are closely related. In any given medium, the higher the frequency, the shorter the wavelength.
  • The amount of energy transported by a light wave increases with the frequency of oscillations (wave-cycle) and as the length of each oscillation decreases.
Understanding the diagram:
  • The diagram shows that the frequency of waves is counted in wave-cycles. One wave-cycle is shown as a dotted yellow line that follows the wave.
  • The dotted yellow line below the wave measures three complete cycles. The measurement is from the peak of the first wave to the peak of the third.
  • The point at which measurement of passing wave-cycles is taken is shown as a vertical line with a clock face below it.
  • The measurement involves calculating how long it takes for the three wave-cycles to pass the clock.
  • The diagram shows that the time it takes in this example is one second.
  • The frequency, in this case, is 3 wave-cycles per second which equal 3 Hertz (Hz).

Some key terms

Wavelength is a measurement from any point on the path of a wave to the same point on its next oscillation. The measurement is made parallel to the centre-line of the wave.

The hertz (symbol: Hz) is a unit used to measure the frequency of electromagnetic waves.

    • 1 Hertz (Hz) = 1 cycle per second
    • 1 Kilohertz (kHz) = 1,000 (thousand) cycles per second
    • 1 Megahertz (MHz) = 1,000,000 (million) cycles per second
    • 1 Gigahertz (GHz) = 1,000,000,000 (billion) cycles per second
    • 1 Terahertz (THz) = 1,000,000,000,000 (trillion )cycles per second

An electromagnetic wave carries electromagnetic radiation.

The frequency of electromagnetic radiation (light) refers to the number of wave-cycles of an electromagnetic wave that pass a given point in a given amount of time.

Electromagnetic radiation refers to the transfer of all forms of radiation through space by electromagnetic waves.

  • Electromagnetic radiation includes gamma rays, ultraviolet (UV), infrared (IR), X-rays, and radio waves, as well as visible light.
  • Detached from its source, electromagnetic radiation (EM radiation), is transported by electromagnetic waves (or their quanta, photons) and propagates through empty space at the speed of light.
  • Man-made technologies that produce electromagnetic radiation include radio and TV transmitters, radar, MRI scanners, microwave ovens, computer screens, mobile phones, all types of lights and lamps, electric blankets, electric bar heaters, lasers and x-ray machines.

A wave-cycle refers to the path of a wave measured from any point through the course of a single oscillation to the same point on the next oscillation.

  • Imagine a wave-cycle as a series of points marked on the path of the wave between one crest and the next.
  • All electromagnetic waves share features such as crests, troughs, oscillations, wavelength, frequency, amplitude, direction of travel.
  • Whilst a wave-cycle is the path from one point on a wave during a single oscillation to the same point on completion of that oscillation, wavelength is a measurement of the same phenomenon along the axis of the wave.

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