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What is wave dispersion?

Wave dispersion is the phenomenon where waves of different frequencies travel at different speeds.

When a wave travels through a medium, its speed is determined by the properties of the medium, such as its density and elasticity. However, when a wave consists of different frequencies, each frequency component interacts with the medium in a slightly different way, resulting in different speeds for each frequency. This causes the wave to spread out, or disperse, over time.

One common example of wave dispersion is the way light is separated into its component colours when passing through a prism. This is because different colours of light have different frequencies and therefore travel at different speeds through the prism.

Another example is ocean waves, where longer wavelength waves travel faster than shorter wavelength waves. This causes the waves to break at different points along the shore, resulting in the formation of surf zones.

Wave dispersion is an important concept in many areas of physics, including optics, acoustics, and seismology. By understanding how waves disperse, scientists can better predict and control the behaviour of waves in various applications.

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