[an error occurred while processing this directive]
[an error occurred while processing this directive]

Does That Involve Acoustics?
by John Boyle, Brigham Young University [an error occurred while processing this directive]
Author Ben Frandsen  
Author John Boyle giving a tour of the BYU reverberation chamber.
Photo courtesy of Brigham
Young University

Most days, I'll explain what I study (acoustics) to someone and get one of two responses: either a look that says "Oh, you're one of those smart science people," or the question, "Does that involve guitars?"

I don't take it personally. Acoustics is serious science, and it's hard to define and understand the field as a whole.  But occasionally I'll find someone who knows exactly what I'm talking about.  Take April 18th of this year, when I sat down on a plane headed to Baltimore.  To my right was a fellow physicist, Steve Lulich from the Washington University in St. Louis. We talked during the entire flight, especially since he and I were headed to Baltimore for the exact same reason: to attend the joint conference of the Acoustical Society of America (ASA) and The Institute of Noise Control Engineering.  

Before I talk more about the conference, let me introduce myself.  I'm a junior in applied physics with an emphasis in acoustics at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.  About 30,000 students attend my school and of those, about 30 participate in the Acoustics Research Group, an ASA student chapter.  One-third of the members are undergraduates and the rest are graduate students.  Most of us are physics majors of various types and the rest come from the engineering department, with the occasional speech-language pathology major. 

The strong acoustics presence at BYU stems from the legacy of Harvey Fletcher. I couldn't do justice to his life’s work in a few sentences, so I recommend that you do an Internet search and learn about his amazing accomplishments (although I will mention that he helped found and then served as the first president of ASA).  As for BYU, he helped get students involved in acoustics research, built our anechoic chamber, and much more.  After him, many others have kept acoustics alive and well at BYU.  This year we sent eleven students to the ASA conference, two of whom won Young Presenter awards from their respective technical committees.  I wasn't presenting at the conference, so that left two things for me to do for the week, attend talks and meet people.  

I got off to a good start on the airplane talking to Steve Lulich.  He was presenting a poster on the effects of sub-glottal coupling on vowel spectra in hyperbaric heliox environments.  In other words, the effects of chest cavity resonances on how vowels sound in underwater divers breathing heliox (a mix of He and O2).  When we arrived at the airport we parted ways, and I met up with the rest of the BYU group. 

On Monday morning we headed over to the Marriott Waterfront Hotel for the first day of the conference.  This was my first time attending a physics conference and I thought I knew what to expect, but the sheer size and scope of the conference blew me away: 1350 papers and 1400 attendees!  Here are titles of only a few of my favorite presentations from the week:

  • An investigation of the combustive sound source
  • Real-time visualizations of expressiveness in music performance
  • Non-intrusive audio notification in emotion classified background music
  • Are they not really there? Using passive acoustics to overcome false absences in the study of vocal species that are rare, secretive, or distributed at low densities
  BYU Students and faculty at ASA.


BYU Students and faculty at ASA.

A presentation by William Moss of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory about blast induced traumatic brain injury research sparked my interest quite a bit. Normally, the blasts that cause traumatic brain injuries in soldiers would also kill them, but body armor is now so good that many soldiers survive.  Unfortunately, they sustain "invisible wounds," i.e. traumatic brain injuries. I listened to a couple of presentations on the subject and was fascinated to see how much medicine and physics come together in this area of research.  Right now, people are trying to better determine the material composition of the skull so that they can more accurately predict the internal effects of an external shock wave.  They're also working on helmet-mounted blast indicators that show what part of the skull received the brunt of the wave so they can correlate it to specific types of injuries.  The work struck a chord in me because it affects many brave American soldiers on the front lines. 

I enjoyed the conference because of the inherent interdisciplinary nature of every presentation and field of research.   Everyone attended because in some way, large or small, their research or work involves acoustics.  Yet on paper, relatively few attendees could claim the title Acoustician or Professor of Acoustics.  Musicians, surgeons, micro-biologists, marine biologists, geologists, linguists, engineers, federal crash investigators, shipbuilders, audiologists, you name it, they were at the conference.  Acoustics is HUGE and endlessly interesting.   It could be considered the most interdisciplinary field of science. I thought I knew great deal about the different facets of acoustics, but after the ASA conference, I began to see just how big the acoustics world can be.   I felt a bit like the people I explain my major to, and in amazement would ask myself, "Does that involve acoustics too?"  

Free 1-Year Membership in ASA
When you join SPS national as an undergraduate, you get free one-year membership in one of ten other physics societies, including the Acoustical Society of America.  

SPS Reporter Program
SPS national sends student reporters to most major AIP Member Society meetings, where they are treated like other members of the press. Many ambitious student reporters succeed in securing interviews with society leadership and prominent invited speakers on such occasions.

SPS Travel Awards
A limited number of grants, on the order of $200 each, are offered to help fund SPS members' travel to national meetings of AIP Member Societies holding a "SPS Session" co-organized by SPS and the Member Society.

 [an error occurred while processing this directive]