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Skip to 0 minutes and 6 seconds [Slinky Waves] Here we have a Slinky. A cheap and very useful tool to explain both longitudinal and transverse waves. The slinky was invented almost by accident by a mechanical engineer who was trying to make springs to suspend some instruments on naval vessels. Longitudinal waves are compressions and rarefactions. Sound waves are longitudinal waves. We can see a longitudinal wave propagate through the spring by causing a compression at one end. Longitudinal waves oscillate in same direction as their direction of travel. How could we measure wave speed with this set-up?

Skip to 0 minutes and 51 seconds Transverse waves oscillate perpendicular to their direction of travel.

Skip to 0 minutes and 59 seconds Visible light and all electromagnetic waves are transverse waves.

Skip to 1 minute and 7 seconds It’s worth getting a decent sized slinky. Metal ones are more durable.


The slinky is a simple and inexpensive teaching tool for longitudinal and transverse waves.

A long slinky can be stretched across the floor, or a long laboratory bench, for demonstrations. An alternative for transverse waves would be to use a piece of rope.

Which concepts can you teach using a slinky? How will this fit in with your teaching sequence for waves?

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This video is from the free online course:

Teaching Practical Science: Physics

National STEM Learning Centre