harmonic oscillator

A physical system in which some value oscillates above and below a mean value at one or more characteristic frequencies. Such systems often arise when a contrary force results from displacement from a force-neutral position, and gets stronger in proportion to the amount of displacement. For example, pulling or pushing the end of a spring from its rest position results in a force pushing back toward the rest position. Letting the spring go from a position of tension results in harmonic motion of the spring; the spring is now a harmonic oscillator. Other examples include a swinging pendulum, a vibrating violin string, or an electronic circuit that produces radio waves.

Nearby words

  1. harmonic interval,
  2. harmonic law,
  3. harmonic mean,
  4. harmonic minor scale,
  5. harmonic motion,
  6. harmonic progression,
  7. harmonic series,
  8. harmonic suture,
  9. harmonic tone,
  10. harmonica

The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.