John Shive's Wave Machines

New for February 2021. This content was previously posted on our VSWR page but we decided it needs its own home. And thanks to Mohamed for reminding us about it!

John Northrup Shive was born in 1913 in Baltimore, Maryland.  He spent his entire technical career at Bell Labs, and while he was there he produced two videos in 1959, demonstrating two "wave machines." Learn more about John Shive on Wikipedia. By the way, Shive's middle name is spelled correctly with a "u", as opposed to Northrop Grumman, which is probably sick of people spelling their name "Northrup Grumman!" Or even Northrop Grummon....

Golf balls with the name Northrop Grumman mis-spelled

Shive's first video is from 1959 and features a very long "Slinky." BTW, the toy was invented in the 1940s by a true Mom and Pop operation, so it had been around a while. Let's digress and view the oldest Slinky commercial we could find... if you are a baby boomer, you already have the lyrics memorized.

1960's Slinky commercial

Now let's take a look at the first of the two Shive videos, the one with the Slinky. Using props such as the motor from a phonograph and a mousetrap, Shive answers questions such as: does the speed of a wave depend on properties of the media it is in? Will a wave travel with a constant speed in a uniform media? How does the speed of a wave depend on its size (amplitude) and shape (pulse width?)  In the video, Shive also introduces the more complicated torsional wave machine, a true thing of beauty.

Simple Waves starring John N. Shive, Bell Laboratories Physical Science Study Committee,1959

The second video continued with the torsional wave machine. By the way, you can buy one of these today for your physics class!

The best video ever made on wave behavior

Most videos explaining complex behaviors in science and engineering use animations. Animations are great, but they are not real; the world is analog and there is no substitute for exploring it as nature intended.  Here's a video from ATT Bell Labs' archives that explains wave behavior, using a "wave machine" developed by John N. Shive. Born in Baltimore in 1913, Shive went to Rutgers for his BS and received his PhD at Johns Hopkins University in 1939.  He spent his career at Bell Labs, working on early research that led to the transistor, and he invented the photo-transistor.  He became the  Director of Education & Training at Bell Labs, in this position he invented the Shive wave machine, a clever instrument that uses torsion on a wire and suspended weights to propagate a wave that is easy to observe. This machine will help you visualize:

  • Transmission lines
  • Propagation velocity
  • Wavelength
  • Impedance
  • Matched loads
  • Reflections from short and open circuits
  • Standing waves
  • Standing wave ratio
  • Reflection coefficient
  • Resonance and tuning
  • Quarter-wave matching networks
  • Tapered transformers

This is the perfect video to show non-members of the microwave engineering cult some of the things we deal with every day, indeed, it gives away our secret language in a way that might get you expelled from a fraternity.  Show it to mechanical engineers, your parents, your kids. Give them a quiz to see if they watched the entire thing!

Similarities in Wave Behavior starring John N. Shive, Bell Laboratories Physical Science Study Committee,1959

Author : Unknown Editor