Wave Machine

In this video, produced by the National STEM Learning Centre and the Institute of Physics, Alom Shaha describes a simple but effective wave machine. Aimed at teachers, this video explains how to make the wave machine using adhesive tape, jelly babies and wooden skewers. He explains how it can be used to illustrate transverse wave motion in a visual and engaging manner.

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Subject(s)Science, Physics, Demonstrations, Practical work
Age11-14, 14-16
Published2010 to date

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Wow! Great wave machine. I had seen it before, but I really like the way you used it to explain refraction!
Nice work!


Impressive: good size and quick construction are plus points. Technician and I considering how it could be rolled up easily and how perishable jelly babies are! The ease of showing refraction in a 1D system is a great advantage.
In a related area (resonance) how about Barton's Pendulums?

James de Winter

Great stuff, many thanks for this.

The PGCE physics I was with yesterday made one and had lots of fun (and learnt some physics)

Lots of discussion about waves and models which was fab and we reckon that there is mileage from y7 to A level.

Some ideas we came up with (all part formed at the moment but I’ll probably forget unless I post now) that I'll share with everyone for comment/addition/correction...

1) Energy moving without matter – great – shows this really well

2) Standing waves – Worked a treat, a bit fiddly to get going but does work. One idea was to practice beforehand and then get a good standing wave ‘feel’ and then pre colour code the nodes and antinodes with a specific colour (all yellows are moving , all reds are stationary). We did try and have a little wiggle to try and show a bigger antionode motion if you get my drift but the damping seemed to work against us

3) Sending waves through each other (we started with one up wave from one end and one down from the other hoping for a magical constructive interference at the middle!) – Well you can see them pass through each other it but the secondary reflections and twists mean that it gets messy pretty quickly.

4) The take the jelly babies off and see the wave speed up – popular also although we had a lengthy discussion about trying to get the density of jellybaby/mass to equate/connect to the density of the medium in a way that worked. This didn’t get anywhere and the feeling was that caution was needed here to avoid potentially creating confusion. But that in itself spurred a great discussion about models, what they were, when they broke down or not and when to use them. I'd be interested in other perspectives on this one, the visualisation of the wave speed change was clear but how to sell this best at different levels other than medium changes and so wave properties change

5) We didn't do it but there is clearly some opportunity to film and put into tracker software and do some v,f, wl work

Thanks for this - and it really is easy to make and quick and well worth it. One of the group made a quick card template to help get even spacing between the sticks on the tape before the impaling began which seemed help although pre-skewering may reduce the twisting when in place. Fun, Physics, sweets and some quality engagement - great stuff.


My AS-level physics class made the jelly baby wave machine and had an absolutely fantastic time doing so. They really enjoyed the lesson, and they appreciated the physics and the elegant beauty of the model. They we're so proud of themselves and they all took iphone videos of the wave in motion.

In addition it was great for me in my first year of teaching (and in a temporary post), the other physics teachers were very impressed and we used the wave machine at our school open night were it was a big success.

I am having great time teaching and have had some great lessons but this was the highlight of my short teaching carreer so far, I got a real buzz from my students getting so much enjoyment and learning in one lesson.

Very many thanks for making this available and I look forward to similar resources in the future that I can use to enhance the quality of my physics teaching.

Alom Shaha

Glad to see this demonstration is going down well with so many teachers. Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment.

Here are a couple of videos from a US teacher who has tried it in class:


and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d8Jkhqghb_8&feature=related

Carol Davenport

One of the great things about this demo is that it shows very clearly the motion of the 'particles' in a transverse wave - something that is easy to forget in rope or slinky models.


Brilliant! Definately going in my repertoire of wave demos. In fact, I'm trying to make one at home, now (but losing the battle - somehow the jelly babies are falling into my mouth instead of the skewers. Much easier to see than rope or slinky


Decided to try this as a way to back up what I had already taught the pupils in my class about refraction.

The class loved the experiment! They built it from scratch and made one that was 5m long. I would really recommend taking the time to make this with a class as the fun and Physics in the making of it is much more useful than me just telling them about waves! We had HMie in that week and even though I was not observed the inspectors still heard about this experiment via the pupils!

Simple yet brilliant!

On a slightly negative note, we tried to put another piece of tape on top of the tape so it could be stored and unfortunately it made the wave alot worse as it doesn't twist as easily. The jelly babies were sent to Chemistry to be burned.


This is fantastic!!!
I found this video link at Make Magazine Online, from their daily email newsletter, which is based in San Francisco, California... but has a national (perhaps international audience :-) of "Do-It-Yourself"ers and Students and Teachers etc., especially in the STEM Community of Teachers...

Your National STEM Centre is fantastic!!! This is my first visit here and I will be back here regularly and promote your Centre at my
teachers resources website affiliation: www.edutopia.org
which is the online resource of The George Lucas Educational Foundation, based in San Francisco, California...but nationwide and also like your Centre, worldwide in its impact...

What a wonder-full day! Thank you very much.

STEM = Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics
STEAM = STEM with Arts :-)
PBL = Projects-Based Learning
Discovery Learning = Real Learning = "The Aims of Education"
by Alfred North Whitehead and other Geniuses (Maria Montessori etc.)

All of the Above,
Allen Berg


Excellent idea to demonstrate waves in a class!