The Sound of Physics

The seniors spent the last few weeks of autumn learning about the physics of sound. In addition to classroom discussion and discovery, we rounded out the lesson with a hands-on exploration of physics in music and art.

We started by investigating the characteristics of mechanical waves and how they propagate through different media.  We discussed why sound travels so much faster (by a factor of 4) and so much farther in water than in air, and how sound pollution may be affecting marine life.  We spent one class with Mr. George Scharr, art department chair, in the music room as he demonstrated various sound phenomena related to music ("organized sound") with students accompanying him on the grand piano.

Lastly, we applied what we had learned so far in an arts-across-the-curriculum lesson with Ms. Lucy Nelson in the ceramics lab, where we formed audio amplifiers out of clay.  We were encouraged to be creative with the design yet careful to include a top slot wide enough to position a cell phone so that its microphone rested in the cavity of the amplifier.  Mechanical sound waves reflected off the hard insides of the glazed ceramic structure which focused it in a forward direction creating an amplification of the acoustic energy from the phone. The seniors were tickled with their low-tech personal speakers, just in time for dorm life.

- Dr. Jackie Yanch