less than 1 minute read


Sound Waves

Elasticity is involved whenever atoms vibrate. An example is the movement of sound waves. A sound wave consists of energy that pushes atoms closer together momentarily. The energy moves through the atoms, causing the region of compression to move forward. Behind it, the atoms spring further apart, as a result of the restoring force.

The speed with which sound travels through a substance depends in part on the strength of the forces between atoms of the substance. Strongly bound atoms readily affect one another, transferring the "push" due to the sound wave from each atom to its neighbor. Therefore, the stronger the bonding force, the faster sound travels through an object. This explains why it is possible to hear an approaching railroad train by putting one's ear to the track, long before it can be heard through the air. The sound wave travels more rapidly through the steel of the track than through the air, because the elastic modulus of steel is a million times greater than the bulk modulus of air.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Dysprosium to Electrophoresis - Electrophoretic TheoryElasticity - Stress, Strain, And Elastic Modulus, Other Elastic Deformations, Crystalline Materials, Elastomers, Sound Waves - Elastic limit, Elasticity on the atomic scale