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Features of March 2006
Shhhhh!: The Science of Noise

Editor’s Note:
What? No silence even after death? That’s an eerie way to interpret this month’s cover image, which is really a colored X-ray of a person wearing a pair of audio headphones. But what the “skeleton” is probably trying to tell us is, Protect your hearing! Listening to loud music (from 120-150 dB) through headphones or at a live concert can be “deadly” to the fine mechanisms in your ears that enable you to hear Coldplay or Green Day or any other rock group. While music isn’t considered noise (unwanted sound) to most of us, it is the major cause of hearing loss in teenagers today. In this issue you’ll learn how to determine the power of different sounds and how to safeguard your ears from harmful noises. As our planet fills with more and more people, silence is becoming less and less available. But I’m sure that you can find a quiet spot where you can relax and enjoy this issue. First, the news. . .
— Elizabeth Lindstrom, ODYSSEY Senior Editor


The Power of Sound
Several years ago, my friend Alain and I were standing on the summit of Mount Wilson in California. As I scanned the countryside almost 6,000 feet below, a hawk glided by without a sound.
“Look!” I shouted.
“Shhhh,” Alain replied. “ Listen. . .what do you hear?”
I shut my mouth and listened. . .and listened. . .and listened.
“I don’t hear a thing,” I whispered.
“Exactly!” Alain exclaimed.
by Stephen James O’Meara

H.E.A.R. Ye! H.E.A.R. Ye! — Music to Your Ears
It was a wild, rockin’ concert. But the next day, Kathy Peck, lead vocalist for the punk band The Contractions, knew that something was wrong. She couldn’t hear, and she had terrible ringing in both ears. 
Peck had suffered permanent hearing loss from exposure to loud music. Devastated, she decided to . . . .
by Nick D’Alto

Acoustical Architecture: Building the Best Concert Halls
Shout hello in a tunnel or underpass, and you’re likely to hear an echo. Have your friends join you, and the echo disappears. In the same way, a walk through an empty concert hall sounds different than the same walk to your seat on concert night when the hall is full. If the sound of your own movements in a tunnel or concert hall can be altered by the presence of others, what does that mean for the people who design and build the places we visit to hear musical performances with audiences of varying sizes? How do these architects and acoustical engineers make sure that the listening environment is the best that it can be for an audience of one or a full house?
by Gina Hagler

Get Ready for. . .Anti-Noise!
Try this experiment: Find a quiet place, sit there for a while, and listen. . .hush and listen. What noises do you hear, even in this quiet place? A car on a nearby road? A jet overhead? Crickets or birds? Try the experiment indoors. Is there a heater or air conditioner you can hear? Is someone walking around or talking? Set your alarm and try the experiment at 3:00 in the morning.

Now try a different experiment. Try listening to your favorite CD while you are cutting the lawn or running the vacuum cleaner.
Okay, then, what conclusions can you draw? Probably, they are something like these: . . . .
by Steven R. Wills

Phweeps, Bweeps, Bizzes, and Beeps
From the moment your cell phone alarm goes off in the morning ( twheep-twheep, twheep-twheep) until the computer shuts down at night (shusssssssstttppp. . .kklluuummppp), electronic sounds surround us. What’s all the tccckkk/tccckkk. . .cllpp/cllpp — and other noise – all about?
by Kathiann M. Kowalski

Sleepless at Noisy U.
My friend Matt went off to college this year, ready to take on the world. He came home at spring break tired, glum, and grumpy. It seems that freshmen bunk three-to-a-room at Noisy U., where Matt is trying to major in environmental science. He has two roommates, Jerry and Jason. Matt sleeps in the bottom bunk below Jerry, who keeps the bed creaking as he tosses and turns all night, snoring like a bulldozer from midnight on. Jason, who has the luxury of a single bed on the other side of the room, plays loud music while he talks on his cell phone with his girlfriend until 2 a.m. What’s more, Matt’s room is . . . .
by Faith Hickman Brynie

Too Noisy for Whales
• 2000 — Sixteen beaked and minke whales beached in the Bahamas. Rescuers pushed 10 back to sea. The six who died were bleeding around their inner ears and brains.
• 2002 — Fourteen whales beached and died in the Canary Islands.
• 2005 — Thirty-seven whales from three different species beached on North Carolina’s Outer Banks.
Each of these sad incidents occurred after the military used sonar nearby. Military sonar, used by the U.S. Navy and other nations to detect submarines, can produce bursts of sound over 215 decibels (dB equals 1 microPascal). The sound travels hundreds of miles through the ocean depths. The sonar bursts are as loud as undersea earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, but they may be more dangerous to animals because . . .
by Paul Kelly

When Noise Hurts: Hyperacusis
Imagine that you have been given third-row seats to a Green Day concert! As soon as Billie Joe Armstrong hits his first chord, the guitar riff pierces your brain. Tre Cool’s drumbeats feel like explosions. You want to turn it down, or turn it off, but you can’t. The sound is crushing and you can’t escape it. Worse yet, you look around and everyone else is having a terrific time!
by Susan Barnes

Sangeeta’s Silent World
A balloon popped. My sister and I clapped our hands over our ears. Our mother was angry at our antics. The loud noise might upset the baby, she said. But my one-year-old cousin, Sangeeta, didn’t flinch. She never even turned toward us. That’s when we suspected that Sangeeta couldn’t hear. Trips to specialists confirmed that she was profoundly . . . .
by Vijaya Bodach

Sound and Survival: Creating the Cacophony of Computer Games
Thunder echoes off abandoned stone structures on Skull Island. Several of your crew have disappeared. You have to find them before daybreak. As you make your way through the jungle, you hear voices to the left. You turn and see two members of your crew. Seconds later, a monstrous Vyrannosaurus rex roars to your right. You try to shoot it down, but its skin is too thick. “Run!” your friends yell. You turn and follow your friends through a stone archway. Lightning, rain, and roars from the V. rex surround you. You keep running. Then you hear the archway fall. V. rex pounds over the ground. His footsteps get louder and louder. As he roars to the left, you turn right and jump into a river. Safe for now!
by Laurie Toupin

Finally! An Ice Cream That SOUNDS Good!
It was an anonymous tip, but as a rookie reporter, I’ll take any tip I can get. “Get over to the Ben & Jerry’s for Earth Day,” the voice had whispered. “It’s the story of the year!”
So here I am, hanging around an ice cream parlor on a warm, spring day. And the only “scoop” it looks like I’ll get is Chunky Monkey. Noticing nothing unusual, I finally say to the manager, “I’m a reporter. Is there a story here or what?”

“Oh, you’re from the press. . .the story is right here,” he says. He taps the ice cream cooler. “This refrigerator cools ice cream by using sound waves! That’s right, thermoacoustic refrigeration, and it just might help save the planet!”

My untested reporter training swings into action. I remember that I need to get. . .the who, what, where, and when. (Well, maybe not in that order.) This is news!
by Steven R. Wills


Block That Noise!
Jackhammers in the street. Your neighbor’s loud lawn mower. Airplanes roaring overhead and trucks rumbling down the highway. No matter how hard you try, there’s no way to escape noise. Or is there? Can you build a barrier between you and the din? Can noise travel around barriers or through holes in them? To find out, try this activity.
by Faith Hickman Brynie

Where’s That Noise Coming From?
by Faith Hickman Brynie

Zoom Into Astronomy: A Messier Marathon!
by Noreen Grice


Science Scoops (News): Beware the Sound Police!, Shouting Spiders!, Killer Sound!, The Sound of Music. . .in Your Head!, Quiet Noise.
by Stephen James O’Meara

Brain Strain: In a Quiet Cube
Jill is a scientist exploring the psychological effects of being in complete silence. Because she likes a little excitement in her life as she goes about her research, she tries a particularly odd stunt — in complete silence, of course. She places herself in a thick, steel cube dangling from a tree branch over El Cañón de Colca, in Peru, the deepest canyon on dry land in the entire world. Each edge of the cube is eight feet in length, and the cube has no holes or cracks. Jill has a small flashlight. She sees something more than eight feet away. How is this possible?
by Clifford A. Pickover

What’s Up (Planet Watch and You Can Do Astronomy)
Two Eclipses. . .and a Marathon!
by Noreen Grice

Stargazing With Jack Horkheimer (Cartoon): The Rival of Mars and How the Scorpion Lost Its Claws
illustrated by Rich Harrington, text by Jack Horkheimer and Stephen James O’Meara

ODYSSEY’s reader response department, welcomes your original poems, stories, drawings, and responses to questions posed in the magazine and on our Web site at www.odysseymagazine.com. You can e-mail us your responses, with SCI-CHAT as the subject, to [email protected], or mail them to SCI-CHAT, ODYSSEY, 30 Grove St., Suite C, Peterborough, NH, 03458.

Kids Picks

Animal Angles: Sounds Amazing!
Imagine that you have to sing very loud (at about a 100 decibel sound pressure level) and long (often for hours) to attract a female mate and protect your territory from other males. And forget earplugs. You also have to listen for predators and rival males. Sound impossible?

Not for crickets. Zoologists James Poulet and Berthold Hedwig at England’s University of Cambridge ran painstaking experiments with male crickets (Gryllus bimaculatus) and think they know why.
by Ruth Tenzer Feldman