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In physics, a **plane wave** is a special case of wave or field: a physical quantity whose value, at any moment, is constant over any plane that is perpendicular to a fixed direction in space.

**Physics** is the natural science that studies matter, its motion and behavior through space and time, and that studies the related entities of energy and force. Physics is one of the most fundamental scientific disciplines, and its main goal is to understand how the universe behaves.

In physics, a **field** is a physical quantity, represented by a number or tensor, that has a value for each point in space-time. For example, on a weather map, the surface temperature is described by assigning a real number to each point on a map; the temperature can be considered at a fixed point in time or over some time interval, to study the dynamics of temperature change. A surface wind map, assigning a vector to each point on a map that describes the wind velocity at that point, would be an example of a 1-dimensional tensor field, i.e. a vector field. Field theories, mathematical descriptions of how field values change in space and time, are ubiquitous in physics. For instance, the electric field is another rank-1 tensor field, and the full description of electrodynamics can be formulated in terms of two interacting vector fields at each point in space-time, or as a single-rank 2-tensor field theory.

- Special types
- Traveling plane wave
- Sinusoidal plane wave
- Plane standing wave
- Properties
- See also
- References

For any position in space and any time , the value of such a field can be written as

where is a unit-length vector, and is a function that gives the field's value as from only two real parameters: the time , and the displacement of the point along the direction . The latter is constant over each plane perpendicular to .

In mathematics, a **unit vector** in a normed vector space is a vector of length 1. A unit vector is often denoted by a lowercase letter with a circumflex, or "hat": . The term direction vector is used to describe a unit vector being used to represent spatial direction, and such quantities are commonly denoted as **d**. Two 2D direction vectors, **d1** and **d2** are illustrated. 2D spatial directions represented this way are numerically equivalent to points on the unit circle.

In mathematics, a **real number** is a value of a continuous quantity that can represent a distance along a line. The adjective *real* in this context was introduced in the 17th century by René Descartes, who distinguished between real and imaginary roots of polynomials. The real numbers include all the rational numbers, such as the integer −5 and the fraction 4/3, and all the irrational numbers, such as √2. Included within the irrationals are the transcendental numbers, such as π (3.14159265...). In addition to measuring distance, real numbers can be used to measure quantities such as time, mass, energy, velocity, and many more.

The values of the field may be scalars, vectors, or any other physical or mathematical quantity. They can be complex numbers, as in a complex exponential plane wave.

When the values of are vectors, the wave is said to be a longitudinal wave if the vectors are always collinear with the vector , and a transverse wave if they are always orthogonal (perpendicular) to it.

**Longitudinal waves** are waves in which the displacement of the medium is in the same direction as, or the opposite direction to, the direction of propagation of the wave. Mechanical longitudinal waves are also called *compressional* or *compression waves*, because they produce compression and rarefaction when traveling through a medium, and *pressure waves*, because they produce increases and decreases in pressure.

In physics, a **transverse wave** is a moving wave whose oscillations are perpendicular to the direction of the wave.

Often the term "plane wave" refers specifically to a traveling plane wave, whose evolution in time can be described as simple translation of the field at a constant **wave speed** along the direction perpendicular to the wavefronts. Such a field can be written as

In mathematics and physics, a **traveling plane wave** is a special case of plane wave, namely a field whose evolution in time can be described as simple translation of its values at a constant **wave speed** , along a fixed **direction of propagation** .

where is now a function of a single real parameter , that describes the "profile" of the wave, namely the value of the field at time , for each displacement . In that case, is called the **direction of propagation**. For each displacement , the moving plane perpendicular to at distance from the origin is called a "wavefront". This plane travels along the direction of propagation with velocity ; and the value of the field is then the same, and constant in time, at every one of its points.

In physics, a **wavefront** of a time-varying field is the set (locus) of all points where the wave has the same phase of the sinusoid. The term is generally meaningful only for fields that, at each point, vary sinusoidally in time with a single temporal frequency.

The term is also used, even more specifically, to mean a "monochromatic" or sinusoidal plane wave: a travelling plane wave whose profile is a sinusoidal function. That is,

The parameter , which may be a scalar or a vector, is called the amplitude of the wave; the scalar coefficient is its "spatial frequency"; and the scalar is its "phase".

A true plane wave cannot physically exist, because it would have to fill all space. Nevertheless, the plane wave model is important and widely used in physics. The waves emitted by any source with finite extent into a large homogeneous region of space can be well approximated by plane waves when viewed over any part of that region that is sufficiently small compared to its distance from the source. That is the case, for example, of the light waves from a distant star that arrive at a telescope.

A standing wave is a field whose value can be expressed as the product of two functions, one depending only on position, the other only on time. A plane standing wave, in particular, can be expressed as

where is a function of one scalar parameter (the displacement ) with scalar or vector values, and is a scalar function of time.

This representation is not unique, since the same field values are obtained if and are scaled by reciprocal factors. If is bounded in the time interval of interest (which is usually the case in physical contexts), and can be scaled so that the maximum value of is 1. Then will be the maximum field magnitude seen at the point .

A plane wave can be studied by ignoring the directions perpendicular to the direction vector ; that is, by considering the function as a wave in a one-dimensional medium.

Any local operator, linear or not, applied to a plane wave yields a plane wave. Any linear combination of plane waves with the same normal vector is also a plane wave.

For a scalar plane wave in two or three dimensions, the gradient of the field is always collinear with the direction ; specifically, , where is the partial derivative of with respect to the first argument.

The divergence of a vector-valued plane wave depends only on the projection of the vector in the direction . Specifically,

In particular, a transverse planar wave satisfies for all and .

Look up in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. plane wave |

In vector calculus, the **curl** is a vector operator that describes the infinitesimal rotation of a vector field in three-dimensional Euclidean space. At every point in the field, the curl of that point is represented by a vector. The attributes of this vector characterize the rotation at that point.

In vector calculus, **divergence** is a vector operator that produces a scalar field, giving the quantity of a vector field's source at each point. More technically, the divergence represents the volume density of the outward flux of a vector field from an infinitesimal volume around a given point.

In vector calculus, the **gradient** is a multi-variable generalization of the derivative. Whereas the ordinary derivative of a function of a single variable is a scalar-valued function, the gradient of a function of several variables is a vector-valued function. Specifically, the gradient of a differentiable function of several variables, at a point , is the vector whose components are the partial derivatives of at .

The **wave equation** is an important second-order linear partial differential equation for the description of waves—as they occur in classical physics—such as mechanical waves or light waves. It arises in fields like acoustics, electromagnetics, and fluid dynamics.

In vector calculus and physics, a **vector field** is an assignment of a vector to each point in a subset of space. A vector field in the plane, can be visualised as a collection of arrows with a given magnitude and direction, each attached to a point in the plane. Vector fields are often used to model, for example, the speed and direction of a moving fluid throughout space, or the strength and direction of some force, such as the magnetic or gravitational force, as it changes from one point to another point.

**Work** is the product of force and displacement. In physics, a force is said to do work if, when acting, there is a movement of the point of application in the direction of the force.

**Del**, or **nabla**, is an operator used in mathematics, in particular in vector calculus, as a vector differential operator, usually represented by the nabla symbol **∇**. When applied to a function defined on a one-dimensional domain, it denotes its standard derivative as defined in calculus. When applied to a field, it may denote the gradient of a scalar field, the divergence of a vector field, or the curl (rotation) of a vector field, depending on the way it is applied.

In mathematics, the **covariant derivative** is a way of specifying a derivative along tangent vectors of a manifold. Alternatively, the covariant derivative is a way of introducing and working with a connection on a manifold by means of a differential operator, to be contrasted with the approach given by a principal connection on the frame bundle – see affine connection. In the special case of a manifold isometrically embedded into a higher-dimensional Euclidean space, the covariant derivative can be viewed as the orthogonal projection of the Euclidean directional derivative onto the manifold's tangent space. In this case the Euclidean derivative is broken into two parts, the extrinsic normal component and the intrinsic covariant derivative component.

**Scalar potential**, simply stated, describes the situation where the difference in the potential energies of an object in two different positions depends only on the positions, not upon the path taken by the object in traveling from one position to the other. It is a scalar field in three-space: a directionless value (scalar) that depends only on its location. A familiar example is potential energy due to gravity.

In physics, chemistry and biology, a **potential gradient** is the local rate of change of the potential with respect to displacement, i.e. spatial derivative, or gradient. This quantity frequently occurs in equations of physical processes because it leads to some form of flux.

In differential geometry, the **four-gradient** is the four-vector analogue of the gradient from vector calculus.

In differential geometry, the Laplace operator, named after Pierre-Simon Laplace, can be generalized to operate on functions defined on surfaces in Euclidean space and, more generally, on Riemannian and pseudo-Riemannian manifolds. This more general operator goes by the name **Laplace–Beltrami operator**, after Laplace and Eugenio Beltrami. Like the Laplacian, the Laplace–Beltrami operator is defined as the divergence of the gradient, and is a linear operator taking functions into functions. The operator can be extended to operate on tensors as the divergence of the covariant derivative. Alternatively, the operator can be generalized to operate on differential forms using the divergence and exterior derivative. The resulting operator is called the **Laplace–de Rham operator**.

**Three-dimensional space** is a geometric setting in which three values are required to determine the position of an element. This is the informal meaning of the term dimension.

A **parametric surface** is a surface in the Euclidean space which is defined by a parametric equation with two parameters Parametric representation is a very general way to specify a surface, as well as implicit representation. Surfaces that occur in two of the main theorems of vector calculus, Stokes' theorem and the divergence theorem, are frequently given in a parametric form. The curvature and arc length of curves on the surface, surface area, differential geometric invariants such as the first and second fundamental forms, Gaussian, mean, and principal curvatures can all be computed from a given parametrization.

In theoretical physics, **scalar field theory** can refer to a relativistically invariant classical or quantum theory of scalar fields. A scalar field is invariant under any Lorentz transformation.

**Two-dimensional space** is a geometric setting in which two values are required to determine the position of an element. The set ℝ^{2} of pairs of real numbers with appropriate structure often serves as the canonical example of a two-dimensional Euclidian space. For a generalization of the concept, see dimension.

In mathematics, a **line integral** is an integral where the function to be integrated is evaluated along a curve. The terms **path integral**, **curve integral**, and **curvilinear integral** are also used; contour integral as well, although that is typically reserved for line integrals in the complex plane.

In geometry, an **isophote** is a curve on an illuminated surface that connects points of equal brightness. One supposes that the illumination is done by parallel light and the brightness is measured by the following scalar product:

In physics, **sinusoidal****plane wave** is a special case of plane wave: a field whose value varies as a sinusoidal function of time and of the distance from some fixed plane.

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