Who has never felt the power of a wave? A wave that moves you up and down, knocks you over or carries you to surf. It is the waves’ energy that makes this possible, energy that is expressed in their motion and that was created by the wind that stirs the water. If we manage to bring all the forces that act on a surfboard into balance, we can keep the board on the water surface and let the wave carry us forward – while we use our body weight to control the direction and speed of the board.
Riding a wave on a beautiful day, feeling the power of the moving water, being pushed towards the sandy shore. But why do I glide and not sink – given I remain standing…?
Constantly and everywhere, we are surrounded by waves – even if we can only perceive some of them such as sound waves, earthquake waves and light. However, waves are not only omnipresent in our lives, but are used for a wide variety of applications. The energy of water waves, e.g., is not only used for the pleasure of surfing but also to generate renewable energy by powering hydropower plants. Here, the waves’ motion energy is converted into electricity.
We can also bundle waves so that their energy intensifies. A simple example is focusing sunbeams – light waves – with a magnifying glass in one point to spark a barbecue fire . Similarly, gamma-rays – electromagnetic waves like light, just much more energetic – can be focused so that their potentised energy is used to destroy cancer cells. X-rays, on the other hand, do not need to be focused to make your broken bone visible.
It sounds like magic, but it is “just” physics!
Even more beautiful, whether water waves, light waves, sound waves or any other physical wave, they all share the same properties: they oscillate while travelling away from their source, thus spreading energy in all directions – like water waves that occur when a stone falls into water.
These properties are the foundation for all the different applications – in medicine, for communication, when looking into Earth or in navigation.
So, if you ever wondered, why measuring the thickness of a glacier and the ultrasound examination of an unborn baby have much more in common than is apparent at first glance; or why the way we use our ears to determine where a sound is coming from is similar to determining a location using GPS – then you are in the right place with focusTerra!
Come and find out all about the waves’ magic and playfully discover the relevance, beauty and power of waves with all your senses. Come and listen to the waves, feel their energy and experiment with them: let earthquake waves dance in our fountain, listen like a dolphin and measure the radiation of your mobile phone.
Let yourself be carried away and immerse yourself in the fascinating world of waves – in nature, art, everyday life and research.
P.S.: The exhibition is also available online – just without the 19 super cool interactive exhibits. And for school classes we have developed free educational material for physics and geography!
Video of the exhibition
About the author
Ulrike Kastrup: The central theme throughout my career has been the education and empowerment of people to understand their natural and man-made environment and to act responsibly within it. As the director of focusTerra, I focus on the dissemination of natural scientific knowledge with a strong focus on their societal relevance to engage wide and diverse audiences, lay and expert people alike through exhibitions and a multitude of activities. Also during previous employment, which followed my training as natural scientist, I aimed at bridging the knowledge gap between science, society and decision makers through targeted communication. Internationally, I promote these goals as Vice President of Ecsite, the European Network of Science Centres and Museums.