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Chemistry LibreTexts

5: The Harmonic Oscillator and the Rigid Rotor

  • The harmonic oscillator is common: It appears in many everyday examples: Pendulums, springs, electronics (such as the RLC circuit), standing waves on a string, etc. It's trivial to set up demonstrations of these phenomena, and we see them constantly.
  • The harmonic oscillator is intuitive: We can picture the forces on systems such as pendulum or a plucked string. This makes it simple to study in the classroom. In contrast, there are many "everyday" examples that are not intuitive.
  • The harmonic oscillator is mathematically simple: Math is part of physics. In studying simple harmonic motion, students can immediately use the formulas that describe its motion. These formulas are understandable: for example, the equation for frequency shows the intuitive result that increasing spring stiffness increases frequency.