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An investigation into Acoustics Research
Wednesdays 24 and 31 October 2007  9.00-9.30pm

Acoustic Engineer Trevor Cox takes us on a two-part journey into the world of acoustics research, starting with the sounds we love to hate.

Sounds of Science

Programme One - Bad Vibes, Good Vibrations

What sounds drive you to distraction? The dentist’s drill? A baby crying? Or the ever-present bleeps of mobile phones? Trevor Cox presents a two-part journey into the world of acoustics research, starting with the sounds we love to hate.

Votes on sounds
Over two million votes were cast to find the worst ever sound. For some, it’s the psychological association they evoke, but for others, it’s the musical characteristics of the sound that set off a host of physiological mechanisms similar to our experience of pain. 

In the programme, Trevor talks to some of his own colleagues including Bill Davies who runs the Positive Soundscape Project, aimed at finding out just what sorts of environmental sounds we prefer. 

Music monkeys like
Trevor also talks to Josh McDermott, an American Researcher from MIT in Boston who is exploring the music preferences of monkeys.

Biological origins of music
As you’ll hear, what Josh and others hope to uncover is nothing less than the biological origins of music itself. The key is a small but incredibly sensitive part of our inner ear called the Basilar membrane. This can detect around 10,000 different frequencies of sound, from the cry of our children to the faint snap of a twig in the midst of a hostile savannah. It’s also thought to be responsible for helping us to distinguish pleasant and unpleasant noises and could have been the key to driving our preference for harmony over disharmony. 

Listen again Listen again to Programme 1

Programme Two

Exploration using sound is carried out across science, from inspecting the structural integrity of bridges, to testing sea temperatures to measure global warming.

In this programme, Trevor Cox meets researchers who, like the great explorers of the past, are using sound to take us into the unknown, from one of the most dangerous places on Earth to environments a billion miles away.

Sounds from Space
Waterfalls on Titan and ice creaks on Europa – planetary acousticians are helping astronomers look for signs of water and life on other worlds, using microphones and sonar.

Music of the Sands
Back in the 13th Century, Marco Polo claimed he could hear sounds coming from sand dunes and suggested they might be made by evil spirits playing musical instruments. French Physicist Stephane Douady has other ideas and has created mini dunes in his lab in Paris, to test his theories.

While you were sleeping
A group of scientists working at the University of Southampton has been exploring whether sound can be used to test levels of consciousness in patients under anaesthesia. Their hope is to produce a consciousness ‘metre’ so that doctors might better understand just how deep a sleep the patient is in during an operation.

Sounds from Dangerous Places
Trevor meets Peter Cusack, an Acoustic Ecologist collecting soundscapes from some of the most hazardous places on the planet. He has recently returned from Chernobyl with some unique and surprising recordings.

Listen again Listen again to programme 2
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