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Encyclopedia > Wave vector

A wave vector is a vector that represents two properties of a wave: the magnitude of the vector represents wavenumber (inversely related to wavelength), and the vector points in the direction of wave propagation.

The wave vector is most useful for generalizing the equation of a single wave into a description of a family of waves. As long as the family of waves all travels in the same direction and with the same wavelength, a single wave vector is valid for the entire family. The most common case of a family of waves that meets these requirements is the plane wave, in which the family of waves is also coherent, i.e. all the waves have the same phase.

For example, a common representation of a single wave at a single point in space is:

where A is the amplitude, ω is the angular frequency, and φ is the starting phase of the wave (the independent variable t is time).

In order to generalize the equation to all points in the one-dimensional space of the direction of propagation, we add in an additional phase offset term:

where k is the wavenumber (2π/λ) and the new independent variable z is the distance along the wave.

Now, as long as we are dealing with a simple family of waves, with identical direction, wavelength, and phase (i.e. a plane wave), we can easily extend the formula by substituting the wave vector k for the wavenumber k, and the location in space vector r for the variable z: Results from FactBites:

 Wave vector - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (481 words) The wave vector has magnitude indicating wavenumber (reciprocal of wavelength), and the direction of the vector indicates the direction of wave propagation. The wave vector is most useful for generalizing the equation of a single wave into a description of a family of waves. As long as the family of waves all travel in the same direction and with the same wavelength, a single wave vector is valid for the entire family.
 Plane wave - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (463 words) In the physics of wave propagation (especially electromagnetic waves), a plane wave (also spelled planewave) is a constant-frequency wave whose wavefronts (surfaces of constant phase) are infinite parallel planes of constant amplitude normal to the phase velocity vector. where i is the imaginary unit, k is the wave vector, ω is the angular frequency, and a is the (complex) amplitude. for electromagnetic waves in an isotropic medium), whereas a longitudinal wave is one in which the amplitude vector is parallel to k (e.g.
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