Medium

What is the medium in a wave

  A medium is a substance or material that carries the wave. You have perhaps heard of the phrase news media. The news media refers to the various institutions (newspaper offices, television stations, radio stations, etc.) within our society that carry the news from one location to another. The news moves through the media. The media doesn't make the news and the media isn't the same as the news. The news media is merely the thing that carries the news from its source to various locations. In a similar manner, a wave medium is the substance that carries a wave (or disturbance) from one location to another. The wave medium is not the wave and it doesn't make the wave; it merely carries or transports the wave from its source to other locations. In the case of our slinky wave, the medium through that the wave travels is the slinky coils. In the case of a water wave in the ocean, the medium through which the wave travels is the ocean water. In the case of a sound wave moving from the church choir to the pews, the medium through which the sound wave travels is the air in the room. And in the case of the stadium waves, the medium through which the stadium wave travels is the fans that are in the stadium.

Definition provided by Physics classroom

Of the three types of waves we will study, only mechanical waves need  a medium to travel through. 

Particle to particle interaction 

   To fully understand the nature of a wave, it is important to consider the medium as a collection of interacting particles. In other words, the medium is composed of parts that are capable of interacting with each other. The interactions of one particle of the medium with the next adjacent particle allow the disturbance to travel through the medium. In the case of the slinky wave, the particles or interacting parts of the medium are the individual coils of the slinky. In the case of a sound wave in air, the particles or interacting parts of the medium are the individual molecules of air. And in the case of a stadium wave, the particles or interacting parts of the medium are the fans in the stadium.

Consider the presence of a wave in a slinky. The first coil becomes disturbed and begins to push or pull on the second coil; this push or pull on the second coil will displace the second coil from its equilibrium position. As the second coil becomes displaced, it begins to push or pull on the third coil; the push or pull on the third coil displaces it from its equilibrium position. As the third coil becomes displaced, it begins to push or pull on the fourth coil. This process continues in consecutive fashion, with each individual particle acting to displace the adjacent particle. Subsequently, the disturbance travels through the medium. The medium can be pictured as a series of particles connected by springs. As one particle moves, the spring connecting it to the next particle begins to stretch and apply a force to its adjacent neighbor. As this neighbor begins to move, the spring attaching this neighbor to its neighbor begins to stretch and apply a force on its adjacent neighbor.

Definition provided by Physics Classroom 

Energy and wave motion

    When a wave is present in a medium (that is, when there is a disturbance moving through a medium), the individual particles of the medium are only temporarily displaced from their rest position. There is always a force acting upon the particles that restores them to their original position. In a slinky wave, each coil of the slinky ultimately returns to its original position. In a water wave, each molecule of the water ultimately returns to its original position. It is for this reason, that a wave is said to involve the movement of a disturbance without the movement of matter. The particles of the medium (water molecules, slinky coils, stadium fans) simply vibrate about a fixed position as the pattern of the disturbance moves from one location to another location.

    Waves are said to be an energy transport phenomenon. As a disturbance moves through a medium from one particle to its adjacent particle, energy is being transported from one end of the medium to the other. In a slinky wave, a person imparts energy to the first coil by doing work upon it. The first coil receives a large amount of energy that it subsequently transfers to the second coil. When the first coil returns to its original position, it possesses the same amount of energy as it had before it was displaced. The first coil transferred its energy to the second coil. The second coil then has a large amount of energy that it subsequently transfers to the third coil. When the second coil returns to its original position, it possesses the same amount of energy as it had before it was displaced. The third coil has received the energy of the second coil. This process of energy transfer continues as each coil interacts with its neighbor. In this manner, energy is transported from one end of the slinky to the other, from its source to another location.

      This characteristic of a wave as an energy transport phenomenon distinguishes waves from other types of phenomenon. Consider a common phenomenon observed at a softball game - the collision of a bat with a ball. A batter is able to transport energy from her to the softball by means of a bat. The batter applies a force to the bat, thus imparting energy to the bat in the form of kinetic energy. The bat then carries this energy to the softball and transports the energy to the softball upon collision. In this example, a bat is used to transport energy from the player to the softball. However, unlike wave phenomena, this phenomenon involves the transport of matter. The bat must move from its starting location to the contact location in order to transport energy. In a wave phenomenon, energy can move from one location to another, yet the particles of matter in the medium return to their fixed position. A wave transports its energy without transporting matter.

So in recap there are two things you need to know.

1. Mechanical waves need some sort of matter for it to move through and that matter is call the medium 

2. Matter in the medium my wiggle back and forth, but it's net motion is zero, but energy is transported in the direction of the wave.