Chapter 11

Electromagnetic waves

Group velocity of a wave packet

ExemplePropagation of two harmonic progressive plane waves of close frequencies

It is assumed that the wave vector is real (it does not take into account the absorption).

and are the real wave vectors of the two waves.

It is assumed that the frequencies and  are close and let :

With and .

It further assumes that the two waves have the same amplitude.

The resulting wave, superposition of two waves, has for amplitude :

Phase velocity and group velocity

Beats are observed (Figure below) : an average wave vector  is enveloped by an envelope wave of wave vector .

Over time, the average waveform (upper in the figure) is a progressive plane wave of speed whereas the envelope wave (the middle one) is a plane wave of velocity .

These speeds are not identical in general, the average wave crests advance at a speed different from that of the crests of the envelope wave.

FondamentalExtension to the case of a wave packet

Wave packet is called a set of harmonic progressive plane waves of close frequencies.

More precisely, their frequencies are in the range , with .

Extension to the case of a wave packet

The resulting wave can be written as a Fourier integral :

Where the amplitude takes only notable values over the interval .

By making a order expansion :

It comes, replacing  :

Hence :

Let :

Finally :

Here we see an average wave of frequency propagating phase velocity :

and an envelope wave depends only on the variable :

and which propagates at the velocity called group velocity :

The phase and group velocities are a priori different and the wave packet spreads by deforming.

The phase and group velocities are a priori different and the wave packet spreads by deforming.

Indeed, each of the monochromatic components of the group "walks" with its own speed, so we observe a deformation of the whole wave packet along its spread.

We also appreciated that this deformation is accompanied by a spreading of the wave packet due to increasing taken by the components of high speed.

ComplémentA video about the significance of the group velocity

The significance of the group velocity

Reference : "Meyavuz"

AttentionPhase velocity and group velocity

For a real wave, which is the superposition of monochromatic progressive plane waves propagating in any medium, it is possible to define two speeds :

  • The phase velocity :

    It corresponds to the phase propagation velocity of a monochromatic component.

    It has no physical reality, that is to say does not correspond to a power transmission.

  • Group velocity :

    It is the speed of the propagation of the envelope of the wave.

    It shows that it is usually identified with the speed of propagation of energy (or information).

    The principle of relativity requires that the group velocity is less than the speed of light in vacuum.

If effectively dependent of , then the phase of each sinusoidal progressive plane wave propagates at its own speed.

A real physical wave, consisting of sinusoidal progressive plane waves, will deform during its propagation : this is called dispersion.

SimulationJAVA Animations (Jean-Jacques Rousseau (University of Le Mans))

  • Wave packet : click HERE

  • Gaussian wave packet: click HERE

Reflection of an electomagnetic wave on a non perfect metal
Electromagnetic waves in plasmas