Frequency is the number of occurrences of a repeating event per unit time. It is also referred to as temporal frequency. The period is the duration of one cycle in a repeating event, so the period is the reciprocal of the frequency.
For cyclical processes, such as rotation, oscillations, or waves, frequency is defined as a number of cycles per unit time. In physics and engineering disciplines, such as optics, acoustics, and radio, frequency is usually denoted by a Latin letter f or by a Greek letter ν (nu).
The period is usually denoted as T, and is the reciprocal of the frequency f:
The SI unit for period is the second.
Calculating the frequency of a particular event is accomplished by counting the number of times that event occurs within a specific time interval, then dividing the count by the length of the time interval. For example, if 71 events occur within 15 seconds, the frequency is:
If the number of counts is not very large, it is more accurate to measure the time interval for a predetermined number of occurrences, rather than the number of occurrences within a specified time. The latter method introduces a random error into the count of between zero and one count, so on average half a count. This is called gating error and causes an average error in the calculated frequency of Δf = 1/2Tm, or a fractional error of Δf/f = 1/2fTm where Tm is the timing interval and f is the measured frequency. This error decreases with frequency, so it is a problem at low frequencies where the number of counts N is small.
An older method of measuring the frequency of rotating or vibrating objects is to use a stroboscope. This is an intense repetitively flashing light (strobe light) whose frequency can be adjusted with a calibrated timing circuit. The strobe light is pointed at the rotating object and the frequency adjusted up and down. When the frequency of the strobe equals the frequency of the rotating or vibrating object, the object completes one cycle of oscillation and returns to its original position between the flashes of light, so when illuminated by the strobe the object appears stationary. Then the frequency can be read from the calibrated readout on the stroboscope.
Higher frequencies are usually measured with a frequency counter. This is an electronic instrument which measures the frequency of an applied repetitive electronic signal and displays the result in hertz on a digital display. Cyclic processes that are not electrical in nature, such as the rotation rate of a shaft, mechanical vibrations, or sound waves, can be converted to a repetitive electronic signal by transducers and the signal applied to a frequency counter. Frequency counters can currently cover the range up to about 100 GHz. This represents the limit of direct counting methods; frequencies above this must be measured by indirect methods.
Above the range of frequency counters, frequencies of electromagnetic signals are often measured indirectly by means of heterodyning (frequency conversion). A reference signal of a known frequency near the unknown frequency. is mixed with the unknown frequency in a nonlinear mixing device. This creates a heterodyne or "beat" signal at the difference between the two frequencies, which is low enough to be measured by a frequency counter. Of course this process just measures the unknown frequency by its offset from the reference frequency, which must be determined by some other method. To reach higher frequencies, several stages of heterodyning can be used. Current research is extending this method to infrared and light frequencies (optical heterodyne detection).
Frequency has an inverse relationship to the concept of wavelength, simply, frequency is inversely proportional to wavelength λ (lambda). The frequency f is equal to the phase velocity v of the wave divided by the wavelength λ of the wave:
Radiant energy is energy which is propagated in the form of electromagnetic waves. Most people think of natural sunlight or electrical light, when considering this form of energy. The type of light which we perceive through our optical sensors (eyes) is classified as white light, and is composed of a range of colors (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet) over a range of wavelengths, or frequencies.
Visible (white) light is only a small fraction of the entire spectrum of electromagnetic radiation. At the short end of that wavelength scale is ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun, which cannot be seen. At the longer end of that spectrum is infrared (IR) light, which is used for night vision and other heat-seeking devices. At even shorter wavelengths than UV are X-rays and Gamma-rays. At longer wavelengths than IR are microwaves, radio waves, electromagnetic waves in megahertz and kHz range, as well as natural waves with frequencies in the millihertz and microhertz range. A 2 millihertz wave has a wavelength approximately equal to the distance from the earth to the sun. A microhertz wave would extend 0.0317 light years. A nanohertz wave would extend 31.6881 light years.
Electromagnetic radiation is classified according to the frequency (or wavelength) of the light wave. This includes (in order of increasing frequency): natural electromagnetic waves, radio waves, microwaves, terahertz radiation, infrared (IR) radiation, visible light, ultraviolet (UV) radiation, X-rays and gamma rays. Of these, natural electromagnetic waves have the longest wavelengths and gamma rays have the shortest. A small window of frequencies, called the visible spectrum or light, is sensed by the eye of various organisms, with variations of the limits of this narrow spectrum.
Sound is vibration transmitted through a solid, liquid, or gas; particularly, sound means those vibrations composed of frequencies capable of being detected by ears. For humans, hearing is limited to frequencies between about 20 Hz and 20,000 Hz (20 kHz), with the upper limit generally decreasing with age. Other species have a different range of hearing. For example, some dog breeds can perceive vibrations up to 60,000 Hz. As a signal perceived by one of the major senses, sound is used by many species for detecting danger, navigation, predation, and communication.
The mechanical vibrations that can be interpreted as sound are able to travel through all forms of matter: gases, liquids, solids, and plasmas. The matter that supports the sound is called the medium. Sound cannot travel through vacuum.
In Europe, Africa, Australia, Southern South America, most of Asia, and Russia, the frequency of the alternating current in household electrical outlets is 50 Hz (close to the tone G), whereas in North America and Northern South America, the frequency of the alternating current is 60 Hz (between the tones B♭ and B — that is, a minor third above the European frequency). The frequency of the 'hum' in an audio recording can show where the recording was made — in countries utilizing the European, or the American grid frequency.
As a matter of convenience, longer and slower waves, such as ocean surface waves, tend to be described by wave period rather than frequency. Short and fast waves, like audio and radio, are usually described by their frequency instead of period. These commonly used conversions are listed below:
|Frequency||1 mHz (10−3)||1 Hz (100)||1 kHz (103)||1 MHz (106)||1 GHz (109)||1 THz (1012)|
|Period (time)||1 ks (103)||1 s (100)||1 ms (10−3)||1 µs (10−6)||1 ns (10−9)||1 ps (10−12)|
[[File:|thumb|220px|Sines with three different frequencies f.]]Frequency is how often an event repeats itself over a set amount of time.
Hertz (symbol Hz) is the unit of frequency.
The relationship between Frequency and wavelength is expressed by the formula:
All electromagnetic waves travel at the speed of light in a vacuum but they travel at slower speeds when they travel through a medium that is not a vacuum. Other waves, such as sound waves, travel at much much lower speeds and can not travel through a vacuum.
Different types of electromagnetic waves have different frequencies.
One way to visualize this is if there were two trains traveling at the same speed, but the size of the train cars was smaller on one train than the other. If someone picked something that was not moving, like a signpost, and then counted how many train cars passed the sign post in one second for each train, they would know the frequency of cars passing in each train. The number and frequency of train cars passing the sign post would be different, because the train with smaller train cars would have more train cars passing the sign post in a second than the train with larger train cars. Knowing how many cars passed the sign post in one second, and knowing the speed of the train, one could figure out mathematically the size of each train car for each train.
For example, if the train was moving at 10 miles per second, and 10 train cars passed in one second, then each train car would be 1 mile long. If the other train was also moving at 10 miles per second and 20 train cars passed in one second, then one would know that each train car was 1/2 of a mile long for that train. This example shows that knowing the frequency of an electromagnetic wave gives you the wavelength, since all electromagnetic waves travel at the speed of light so that c = v (lambda) where v is frequency and lambda is wavelength, and c is the speed of light. Therefore, another way of expressing frequency is to say frequency is c over lambda.