On the Radar: A week (or so) of sound bytes

November 5, 2010

Frito Lay recalls their Sun Chips because they’re too noisy. Researchers at MIT are developing “acoustic fibers” that can detect and produce sound. (If only the fibers could absorb sound, they’d spare us the pain of hearing William Shatner sing Cee-Lo’s “F*ck You”.) A network of sensors, purportedly the first of its kind in the world, aims to predict the likelihood of a landslide by measuring and analyzing the acoustic behaviour of soil. As if Twitter weren’t intrusive enough, a company in Glasgow is developing software that would enable tweet alerts to be audible in 3D. NASA’s Kepler spacecraft eavesdrops on the sound waves from stars to deduce the stars’ size, age, mass and more. (“We can say Kepler is listening to thousands of musicians in the sky,” says Daniel Huber, a University of Sydney grad student.) Meanwhile, the space agency makes a pitch for hypersonic flight, and CalTech reserchers demonstrate that if you make two nylon balls travel at 3,000 mph, one will surf on the shock wave of the other, like Mach 4 geese. Peter and Rosemary Grant, experts on Darwin’s finches, report that two finch species on the island of Daphne Major have declined to interbreed with a recently arrived finch species primarily because it sings a different song. A forthcoming paper in Conservation Biology reports that the distribution of certain forest songbirds, particularly those that sing at low frequencies, is determined largely by the presence of traffic noise, which can drown out the birds’ song signals. Swiss engineers have figured out how to calculate (and–so cool!–visualize) noise levels along the entire Swiss rail network, to help identify where residents are most exposed to noise and what abatement measures would best protect them. Researchers at Nanjing University have devised an “acoustic rectifier” that blocks acoustic waves from moving in a certain direction–like a one-way mirror for sound. You listening, Shatner?

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