Physics KS3: How do vibrations in the air lead to a sound we can hear?

Professor Sophie Scott uses a tuning fork and a high speed camera to show what is physically happening when we hear sounds.

Hitting the tuning fork causes all the air molecules around it to vibrate.

This sets up a chain of movement and waves of air molecules stretching out and being compressed.

It is when these waves reach our ears that we hear a sound.

Professor Scott then uses a large model of an ear to explain what is happening in our bodies when these vibrations reach our ears, and how we turn them into electrical signals for our brains to decode.

This clip is from the The Royal Institution Christmas Lecture - The Language of Life.

Teacher Notes

You could get students to draw a diagram of an ear and label each of the parts.

They could add to this by making it a flow diagram showing the process of hearing and decoding a message; from the source of the sound, to how the ear turns the vibrations into electrical messages for the brain to decode.

Curriculum Notes

This film is relevant for teaching Physics and Biology at Key Stage 3 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and at 3rd Level in Scotland.