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The science of sound

Sonic booms, the science of making music, the impact of noise on people and animals, and bursts of sound-induced light are just some of the intriguing topics that will be presented at the 161st Meeting of the Acoustical Society of America (ASA).

The meeting will take place May 23-27, 2011, in scenic Seattle, Washington, at the Sheraton Seattle Hotel. The ASA offers complimentary press registration to bona fide working journalists; see details below. Journalists may also remotely access meeting information with ASA's World Wide Press Room, which will go live one week before the conference begins.

More than 1,300 papers will be delivered at this premier international meeting of scientific, environmental, and medical acoustics. Highlights include sessions on the impact of noise on land and sea animals; the use of sound to study the body and treat disease; new developments on hearing implants in children and adults; and how noise impacts our medical care, schools, and home life.

Preliminary Meeting Highlights


Listening and Learning in a Simulated Classroom:
Researchers studied how noise affects students' ability to comprehend in the classroom.

Underwater Noise Impact on Marine Mammals:
Reducing underwater noise may do more than help marine mammals communicate and navigate. It also may help them cope with many stressful situations, including climate change.

Preparing to Hear Thunder on Titan:
Saturn's moon Titan has rain, albeit in the form of methane. It may also have lightning and researchers have proposed a way to detect it by 'listening' for the telltale rumble of alien thunder.

Attention to Speech after Cochlear Implants:
Deaf infants develop improved attention to speech after cochlear implants, which becomes important later as children develop speech perception.

Syllables Suggest Sexual Orientation:
Previous research has shown that listeners can tell the difference between homosexual and heterosexual male speech. New results reveal that certain syllables can cue listeners to the difference without even hearing an entire word.


Noisy Room? Power Your Phone:
Hate forgetting to recharge your cellphone or music player? It may soon be possible to harness the noise around you to power-up your gadgets.

Evolution of Hearing in Birds and Alligators:
Part of the evolutionary connection between alligators and birds may be detected in the way they process sound.

Traffic Noise Part of the Weekend Forecast:
Barriers are often used to reduce freeway noise in residential areas. A change in the weather, however, can thwart these measures, raising sound levels beyond legal limits.

Human Noise and Effects on Marine Life:
A survey of 20 years' worth of literature and metadata on the impact of human-made noise on marine life will be presented. The information provides a baseline for future research on ocean sounds.

Hear It in Your Bones:
Underwater, humans listen with their bones as well as their ears, especially when it comes to ultrahigh frequency sound.


Mine Detection with Sound and Lasers:
Buried mines affect the natural ground vibrations above them. Airborne laser images can reveal these subtle low-frequency distortions and help pinpoint the locations of these dangerous devices.

Piano Evolution: Past, Present, and Future:
Piano design has evolved to exploit the benefits of better piano strings. A new study examines how this happened and what the music world might expect from pianos of the future.

Sound and Touch Mix in the Brain:
Hearing the buzz of a mosquito seemingly enhances our sense of touch. But what is the connection between what we hear with our ears and feel with our skin? New studies reveal sound's effect on sensory processing in the human brain.

Walk Like a Man, Talk Like a Man, and Vice Versa:
Transgender people strive for a voice that matches their gender identity, but achieving the right sound is more challenging than simply raising or lowering pitch. New studies may help people overcome the constraints of anatomy to have their voices better match their genders.


Demonstration of Temperature and Tone:
Brass and woodwind instruments tend to play sharp when the air is hot and flat when the air is cold. A simple demonstration showcases these effects.

Blackbody Light from Sound:
Extremely hot objects, like stars, shine in wavelengths across the electromagnetic spectrum. This so-called blackbody radiation has now been detected in an unexpected place, the spectra from fleetingly brief and still mysterious sonoluminescent flashes.

Flushing Toilets without Flustering Coworkers:
Nature calls, and the unwelcomed sound of the flushing toilet is heard throughout the office. Some simple structural modifications, however, can help prevent the commode from disrupting the work environment.

The Sound of Something Hitting your Spacecraft:
Space is a dangerous place. Providing a safe habitat for humans is a constant battle against cosmic rays, freezing cold, impacts from micrometeorites and orbital debris. A new system that combines acoustic and non-acoustic sensors can help detect these impacts as well as localize them and assess potential damage.


Videogame to Hone Language:
Learning to identify words from a continuous stream of sounds is essential for language development. A new videogame may make that process easier by training listeners to better separate the wheat from the chaff, linguistically speaking.

Music to the Ear and Implant:
Cochlear implants perform well in processing the spoken word. Melody perception, however, remains a challenge. A new system significantly improves melody perception without reducing a person's ability to understand speech.

Sound and Light Help Rebuild Tissue:
Tissue scaffolds support and guide cell growth, which provides either temporary or permanent support to help repair damaged bones, tissues, and organs. Creating scaffolds, however, can be time-intensive. Using sound to create standing waves and lasers to cure polymers, scientists have created a faster, more efficient manufacturing method.

Wind Farms and Marine Mammals Can Coexist:
Offshore wind farms appear environmentally benign, however, they do raise questions about their impact on marine ecosystems, particularly during their noisy construction phase. A review of impact studies suggests that, after construction, there appears to be little conflict between marine mammals and operating offshore wind farms.


The Sheraton Seattle Hotel is located at 1400 Sixth Ave., Seattle, Washington, 98101. The hotel main numbers are: 1-206-621-9000 and toll-free: 1-800-325-3535.

Main meeting website:
Searchable index:
Hotel site:


In the coming weeks, ASA's World Wide Press Room ( will be updated with additional tips on dozens of newsworthy stories and with lay-language papers, which are 300-1200 word summaries of presentations written by scientists for a general audience and accompanied by photos, audio, and video.


We will grant free registration to credentialed full-time journalists and professional freelance journalists working on assignment for major news outlets. If you are a reporter and would like to attend, contact Charles E. Blue (, 301-209-3091), who can also help with setting up interviews and obtaining images, sound clips, or background information.


Contact: Charles E. Blue
American Institute of Physics

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