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Any effect that varies in a back-and-forth or reciprocating manner. Examples of oscillation include the variations of pressure in a sound wave and the fluctuations in a mathematical function whose value repeatedly alternates above and below some mean value.
The term oscillation is for most purposes synonymous with vibration, although the latter sometimes implies primarily a mechanical motion. The alternating current and the associated electric and magnetic fields are referred to as electric (or electromagnetic) oscillations.
If a system is set into oscillation by some initial disturbance and then left alone, the effect is called a free oscillation. A forced oscillation is one in which the oscillation is in response to a steadily applied periodic disturbance.
Any oscillation that continually decreases in amplitude, usually because the oscillating system is sending out energy, is spoken of as a damped oscillation. An oscillation that maintains a steady amplitude, usually because of an outside source of energy, is undamped. See Anharmonic oscillator, Damping, Forced oscillation, Harmonic oscillator, Vibration