vibration, in physics, commonly an oscillatory motion—a movement first in one direction and then back again in the opposite direction. It is exhibited, for example, by a swinging pendulum, by the prongs of a tuning fork that has been struck, or by the string of a musical instrument that has been plucked. Random vibrations are exhibited by the molecules in matter (see Brownian movement). Any simple vibration is described by three factors: its amplitude, or size; its frequency, or rate of oscillation; and the phase, or timing of the oscillations relative to some fixed time (see harmonic motion). Sound is produced by the vibrations of a body and is transmitted through material media in pressure waves (see wave) made up of alternate condensations (forcing of the molecules of the medium together) and rarefactions (pulling of the molecules of the medium away from one another). In sound the vibration is longitudinal, for the movement is to and fro along the direction in which the sound is traveling. When a sound wave of one frequency strikes a body that will vibrate naturally at the same frequency, the vibration of the body is called sympathetic vibration. A reinforcement of sound resulting from sympathetic vibration is called resonance. When the vibrations of a sound-producing body cause another body to vibrate in the same frequency, not normally its own, the vibration is known as forced vibration. Heat is commonly defined as the energy of molecules, part of which consists of the energy of their vibrational motion.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.