A52 Wave Reflection

Whether the end is fixed or loose, the pulse always undergoes reflection when it reaches the end. However, if it is a fixed end, the reflected pulse undergoes a 180° phase change, and returns on the other side of the slinky. If it is a loose end, no phase change occurs to the pulse, and it returns on the same side of the slinky.

(Beyond H2 syllabus)

Actually, when a wave encounters a discontinuity in the medium (aka medium boundary), only part of it is reflected, and the remaining part is transmitted. The fraction that is reflected depends on the degree of discontinuity. The more abrupt the change in medium, the higher the fraction that is reflected (and lower the fraction that is transmitted).

1 hard    2 soft

Compared to the slinky, the fixed end represents an infinitely heavy slinky, and the loose end represents an infinitely light slinky. For the wave traveling down the slinky, both the fixed end and the loose end represent the most drastic change in medium possible. That’s why 100% of the pulse was reflected and 0% was transmitted. If the medium change is not so abrupt, we will see some of the wave being reflected, and some being transmitted. As illustrated by the below.

3 reflect1     4 reflect2



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