Difference Between Mechanical and Electromagnetic Waves (With Table)

Mechanical vs Electromagnetic Waves

Waves are commonly seen in the water bodies and many people believe wave patterns only originate in liquid. In reality, they are everywhere. When an object interacts with another object, it oscillates surrounding particles and generates a mechanical wave. Similarly, electromagnetic wave generates in an electromechanical field when a charged particle oscillates.

Both of these phenomena generate waves and many people believe they are the same. However, both of these waves are completely different in their properties.

The difference between Mechanical and Electromagnetic Waves is that Mechanical Waves are the oscillation of physical matters in which energy transfers through a medium and must need physical matters for propagation, while Electromagnetic Waves is the wave of the electromagnetic field which carries electromagnetic radiant energy and propagates through space and does not require physical matters for propagation.


 

Comparison Table Between Mechanical and Electromagnetic Waves (in Tabular Form)

Parameter of ComparisonMechanical WavesElectromagnetic Waves
What is itThe oscillation of physical matters in which energy transfers through a mediumThe wave of the electromagnetic field which carries electromagnetic radiant energy and propagates through space
TypeSurface waves, transverse waves, and longitudinal waves.X-rays, ultraviolet radiation, visible light, infrared radiation, microwaves, and radio waves
ExampleSoundLight
Ability of PropagationMust require physical matters for propagation.Does not require physical matters for propagation. It can travel through a vacuum.
Energy levelHighLow
SpeedSlowHigh

 

What are Mechanical Waves?

The oscillation of physical matters in which energy transfers through a medium is called a mechanical wave. Examples of mechanical waves can be spotted in daily life. The wavering pattern a stone creates when dropped in the pond is a perfect example of a mechanical wave. Similarly, the sound is also a mechanical wave and it also propagates through the air by osculating air molecules. However, mechanical waves cannot move through a vacuum, because the vacuum does not contain any material for oscillation.

Mechanical waves convey energy. For this reason, there is an initial energy input required for mechanical wave generation. The wave amplitude is the main cause behind mechanical waves. Contrary to popular belief frequency does not cause mechanical waves. Mechanical waves contain high energy but low speed. For example, the speed of air is only 332 meters per second.

Mechanical waves can be alienated into three categories. These are surface waves, transverse waves, and longitudinal waves. Most Mechanical waves have low frequency, but high wavelength. Amplitudes of the mechanical wave are measured by displacement divided by wavelength.

When produced nonlinearly it generates harmonic effects. On the other hand, large enough mechanical waves create chaotic effects. A Mechanical wave continues its oscillation process until its energy transferred to the medium. For this reason, a mechanical wave is considered as a periodic disturbance in the field.

Mechanical Waves
 

What are Electromagnetic Waves?

The wave of the electromagnetic field which carries electromagnetic radiant energy and propagates through space is called an electromagnetic wave. Light is a perfect example of electromagnetic waves that can be spotted in daily life. It is a synchronized oscillation effect of electric and magnetic fields.

Electromagnetic waves generate from electrically charged particles. During this process, these waves exert their force on other charged particles and carry energy from their sources. Electromagnetic waves generate transverse waves in the direction of propagation. Electromagnetic waves can radiate without the continuing manipulation of the moving charges. For this reason, they can propagate through space.

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For the generation of an electromagnetic wave the oscillations of the two fields have to be perpendicular to each other and it also has to be perpendicular to the path of energy & wave propagation. According to various wavelengths, electromagnetic waves can be alienated in different categories; these are gamma rays, X-rays, ultraviolet radiation, visible light, infrared radiation, microwaves, and radio waves.

Electromagnetic waves contain low energy but high speed. For example, in the space of vacuum, the light travels at 299,792,458 meters/second. Most electromagnetic waves are in low wavelength with high frequency. For this reason, all electromagnetic waves travel at light speed but they carry less energy.

Electromagnetic Waves

Main Differences Between Mechanical and Electromagnetic Waves

  • The oscillation of physical matters in which energy transfers through a medium is called a mechanical wave. On the other hand, the wave of the electromagnetic field which carries electromagnetic radiant energy and propagates through space is called an electromagnetic wave.
  • Types of mechanical waves are surface waves, transverse waves, and longitudinal waves; while types of electromagnetic waves are disturbed according to their wavelengths like X-rays, ultraviolet radiation, visible light, infrared radiation, microwaves, and radio waves.
  • Sound is a mechanical wave and it generates from the oscillation of matter. However, light is an electromagnetic wave and it generates from the oscillation of charged particles from the electromagnetic field.
  • Mechanical waves must require physical matters for propagation. For this reason, sound cannot propagate through a vacuum. However, the electromagnetic wave does not require physical matters for propagation. It can travel through a vacuum.
  • The energy level of most mechanical waves is high. On the other hand, the energy level of most electromagnetic waves is low.
  • The speed of mechanical waves is slow. For example, sound only travels at 343 meters/second. However, the speed of electromagnetic waves is high. For example, light travels at 299,792,458 meters/second.

 

Conclusion

Both mechanical and electromagnetic waves can be spotted in daily life. Sound is a perfect example of mechanical waves. It generates from the physical oscillation of matter and it uses air as a propagating medium. Similarly, light is a perfect example of an electromagnetic wave. It generates from the electromechanical field when a charged particle oscillates.

Most mechanical waves travel at low speed but they can carry high levels of energy. Their amplitudes are measured by displacement divided by wavelength. When produced nonlinearly it generates harmonic effects. On the other hand, large enough mechanical waves create chaotic effects.

On the other hand, electromagnetic waves travel at light speed, but they can carry a low level of energy. Electromagnetic waves can emit without the rolling manipulation of the moving charges. For this reason, they can spread through space.


 

Word Cloud for Difference Between Mechanical and Electromagnetic Waves

The following is a collection of the most used terms in this article on Mechanical and Electromagnetic Waves. This should help in recalling related terms as used in this article at a later stage for you.

Difference Between Mechanical and Electromagnetic Waves