Saturday, December 10, 2011

Pendulum Wave

It's been about 2 years since I last posted anything, so here goes:

Suppose for a minute there you believe me that the angular frequency of a pendulum is given by:

Where L is the length of the pendulum and g is the gravitational field strength. Well, none of that matters really, suffice to say that the longer the pendulum, the faster the oscillation for a given gravitational field.

In the video below, you’ll see that the pendulum bobs with a longer string length swing with a lower frequency than those with shorter string lengths, in accordance with the equation above.

What do you notice? Notice how the pendulum bobs start to swing in a synchronized fashion and then gradually start to lose their synchronization. This generates the nice pattern we see. Can we apply any quantitative explanation to this nice pattern of synchronization we see? Yes we can!

Now, suppose you now believe me (again) that the pendulum swings in such a way that when you follow the horizontal component of its displacement from equilibrium, it traces out a sinusoidal curve with respect to time as follows (I’ve left out all axes for simplicity):

Now imagine you have many different pendulums, all of different lengths – each pendulum bob differs from its preceding and successive pendulum bob by just a small change in its length. Then you you would expect the sinusoidal curves traced out by each bob to be slightly different due to different frequencies, as such:

The sinusoidal curves are all of different frequencies, though differing only slightly from one another – occasionally, one might expect the pendulum bobs to swing in phase and synchronize with one another, but most of the time, the pendulum bobs swing out of phase and are asynchronous due to their different frequencies.

So what does your eye see when you superpose all of the pendulum motions together? Well, essentially, there will be a period of time when the pendulum bobs all seem to be swinging in sync and then because of their different frequencies, they slowly start to swing out of sync, and then slowly again, they swing in sync. So if you add up all of the sinusoidal curves for a representative interpretation, you obtain this:

This is known as a wavepacket – the amplitude (how high the wave is) represents how coherent, or how in sync the individual pendulums are with one another. In the central portion, the amplitude is high, meaning the pendulums are almost swinging in sync. As time progresses, the pendulums swing out of sync, and you see the height of the wave packet decreases.

The motion is however, periodic, so you see the same patterns repeating over and over again, though with decreased amplitudes due to loss in kinetic energy.

That’s essentially it, but I haven’t made any additional effort to correctly quantify the patterns that we see. So sorry!

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