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The Science of Sound: Understanding Waves, Types, and Importance

There’s nothing like waking up to the sounds of birds in the morning.
Even before you open your eyes, your brush with the new day has begun!
That early morning call of the cuckoo, is perceived because of what we commonly know as ‘Sound.’ Something that seems like an ‘Art’, but is in fact an intricate ‘Science’, too.

Are you one of those people who are forever questioning the existence of things? Like, why do some stars in the sky shine more brightly than others?
If there’s one thing we know about that ‘Light’ we see in the night sky, it’s that it travels faster than Sound. But what about that ‘Sound’ itself?

This article aims to probe the Science of Sound. Here, we will take a look at everything ranging from the Types of Sounds in Science, to the Uses of Sound in Science.
It’s perhaps best, to begin with a look at what the term ‘Sound’ truly implies.

The Science of Sound: Sound Waves

To understand Sound, is to understand Sound Waves.
Whether it’s the gentle sound of wind chimes on a winter evening, or the sounds of birds in the morning, we experience Sound each day through Sound Waves.
So, what are Sound Waves?
In scientific parlance, ‘A sound wave can be defined as the ‘Periodic compression and rarefaction of an elastic medium.’
In layman terms, it’s all about ‘Compression’ and ‘Rarefaction.’
Compression is what happens when the molecules in the medium of sound conduction are pressed together. On the other hand, Rarefaction occurs as a result of the molecules in the medium being allowed to spread apart.

To make it easier to understand, consider the following example. Take the case of a person clapping their hands. There is a brief compression of the molecules of air between their  hands. What follows shortly thereafter is the rarefaction, which ends up in the relieving of pressure.

In the above example, what happens is that these ‘disturbances’ are manifested as things we call ‘waves’, which are the very reason that we hear that clapping sound at all.

Sound in Science: Its Importance

Why is this invisible phenomenon that we commonly known as ‘Sound’, ever so important? Here’s a look at the importance of Sound in Science

  1. Communication
  2. If there were no sound, how would we communicate with each other? When talking about the Uses of Sound in Science, there’s little wonder that this one finds itself at the top of the list.

    It’s true. Verbal communication would be something of a myth, if there were no sound. What’s more, there would be no things like radios and television sets that use the concept of sound waves. The very sound waves that are responsible for transmitting sounds for our hearing pleasure.

  3. Sonar
  4. How do we explore our oceans? Through the use of Sonar devices, that use sound waves!

    That’s not where the uses of Sonar end, of course! Sonar is an acronym for Sound Navigation Ranging. It has several uses, that include Navigation, Forecasting and in tracking Aircrafts and Missiles.

    In the case of the above example of ocean exploration, the way Sonar works is like this. The sound waves that are emitted by sonar objects, get bounced back to the source after colliding with an object, like a fish. The resultant echo is used to arrive at the size and distance of the object.

  5. Hunting
  6. Have you ever wondered how some creatures that are blind, like bats, hunt for their food?

    Yet again, it’s the sound waves that bats emit, that are reflected back to them after bouncing off their prey. That helps them effectively zone in on their next meal!

  7. Ultrasound Imaging
  8. When was the last time you went to the hospital for a full body check-up? It’s none other than ultrasound ‘sound’ waves, that are used for scanning the insides of bodies. Clearly, one of the more important uses of sound in science.

The Types of Sounds in Science

By now we have gathered a deeper understanding of the importance of sound. However, do we know about the basic Types of Sound in Science?

We all perceive differences in sounds. For instance, the sound emanating from a person playing the violin, and a conversation between two strangers in a supermarket. But what about the sound waves we cannot hear?

The following are the different types of Sound Waves.

  • Sonic Waves. These are commonly referred to as ‘audible waves’. Examples of these are the kind that stem from playing the
  • Ultrasonic Waves. We have heard of Ultraviolet light, but what is an Ultrasonic Wave? It is a longitudinal wave that has a frequency higher than the upper limit of the human hearing range. That is, 20 Hz. These waves are produced by very small sources. An example of this wave is the Quartz Crystal.
  • Infrasonic Waves. These are waves that are produced by sources that are huge in size. They are the polar opposite of Ultrasonic Waves, their frequency falling lower than the hearing limit range of human beings. An example of this would be the sound emanating from an Earthquake,

Further Information: Reading about Sound

If you’re still craving for more information pertaining to the Science of Sound, we recommend that you read a book on Sound!

Where it comes to Sound Books, the following is our recommendation: The Science of Sound, a book by Thomas Rossing.

This one’s a great introduction to all students of Sound, who don’t have a proper background in Physics or Mathematics. What’s truly helpful about this book, is the inclusion at the end of every chapter, of Exercises and Review Questions.

At EuroKids, we believe that we must all learn more about the wonderful world we live in, and that includes understanding the source of the myriad sounds that we hear on a daily basis. Without sound, we might still express ourselves to each other, but it would never be as eloquent and impactful, as Verbal Communication.

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