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What is Harmonic Motion?



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A periodic motion that's a sinusoidal function of time. It's often called simple harmonic motion (SHM). It's the simplest possible type of vibratory motion. The motion is symmetric about its midpoint, at which the velocity is greatest and the acceleration is zero. At the extreme displacements or turning points, the velocity is zero, and the acceleration is a maximum. The motion is characterized by a unique frequency (without overtones).



Harmonic motion may be present in very simple mechanisms. For example, if a wheel is rotating at a constant speed about a fixed axis, the projection on any fixed line of the motion of a point on the wheel is simple harmonic. Harmonic motion may also result from the response of a vibrating system to a periodic -- in particular a sinusoidal -- force. Harmonic motion is the typical motion of most simple systems that have been displaced from a position of stable equilibrium and then released, provided that the damping is negligible. The motion of a pendulum is approximately simple harmonic for small amplitudes.

The realization that atoms are continually vibrating in motions that are nearly harmonic is essential for understanding many properties of matter, including molecular spectra, heat capacity, and heat conduction.

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Updated: Friday, 2007-11-16 17:41 PST