Sound is an example of a mechanical wave, specifically, a pressure wave: Sound waves travel through the air and other media as oscillations of molecules. Normal human hearing encompasses an impressive range of frequencies from 20 Hz to 20 kHz. Sounds below 20 Hz are called infrasound, whereas those above 20 kHz are called ultrasound. Some animals, like the bat shown in Figure, can hear sounds in the ultrasonic range.
Many of the concepts covered in Waves also have applications in the study of sound. For example, when a sound wave encounters an interface between two media with different wave speeds, reflection and transmission of the wave occur.
Ultrasound has many uses in science, engineering, and medicine. Ultrasound is used for nondestructive testing in engineering, such as testing the thickness of coating on metal. In medicine, sound waves are far less destructive than X-rays and can be used to image the fetus in a mother’s womb without danger to the fetus or the mother. Later in this chapter, we discuss the Doppler effect, which can be used to determine the velocity of blood in the arteries or wind speed in weather systems.