Phase velocity

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The phase velocity of a wave is the rate at which the phase of the wave propagates in space. This is the speed at which the phase of any one frequency component of the wave travels. For such a component, any given phase of the wave (for example, the crest) will appear to travel at the phase velocity. The phase velocity is given in terms of the wavelength λ (lambda) and period T as

Or, equivalently, in terms of the wave's angular frequency ω and wavenumber k by

In a dispersive medium, the phase velocity varies with frequency and is not necessarily the same as the group velocity of the wave, which is the rate at which changes in amplitude (known as the envelope of the wave) propagate.

The phase velocity of electromagnetic radiation may, under certain circumstances, (for example anomalous dispersion) exceed the speed of light in a vacuum, but this does not indicate any superluminal information or energy transfer. It was theoretically described by physicists such as Arnold Sommerfeld and Léon Brillouin. See dispersion for a full discussion of wave velocities.


Matter wave phase

In quantum mechanics, particles also behave as waves with complex phases. By the de Broglie hypothesis, we see that

Using relativistic relations for energy and momentum, we have

where E is the total energy of the particle (i.e. rest energy plus kinetic energy in kinematic sense), p the momentum, γ the Lorentz factor, c the speed of light, and β the speed as a fraction of c. The variable v can either be taken to be the speed of the particle or the group velocity of the corresponding matter wave. Since the particle speed v < c for any particle that has mass (according to special relativity), the phase velocity of matter waves always exceeds c, i.e.

and as we can see, it approaches c when the particle speed is in the relativistic range. The superluminal phase velocity does not violate special relativity, as it carries no information. See the article on signal velocity for details.

See also

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