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Speed of Sound Versus Temperature Using PVC Pipes Open at Both Ends

Michael E. Bacon

Citation: The Physics Teacher 50, 351 (2012); doi: 10.1119/1.4745687

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Published by the American Association of Physics Teachers

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Speed of Sound Versus Temperature
Using PVC Pipes Open at Both Ends
Michael E. Bacon, Thiel College, Greenville, PA

n this paper we investigate the speed of sound in air as
a function of temperature using a simple and inexpen- . (4)
sive apparatus. For this experiment it is essential that
the appropriate end corrections be taken into account. In In the speed of sound versus temperature experiments
a recent paper1 the end corrections for 2-in i.d. (5.04-cm) reported below, this equation is written as
PVC pipes open at both ends were investigated. The air col-
( c )
umn resonance was excited using a paddle as in Blue Man (5)
Group® pipes.2 The “open end” end correction is given by ( )
0.6133r in accordance with recent experiments3 and detailed and fit to the data of f versus Tc using a nonlinear least-
theoretical calculations.4 This correction amounted to square fitting routine, with K as an adjustable parameter.
1.56 cm for the 2-in PVC pipe used. However, the paddle
end correction was found to be influenced by the transient Experiment and results
position of the paddle during the excitation process. The The experimental setup is shown in Fig. 1. The PVC pipe
paddle end correction was found to be 1.94 cm. (L0 = 66.1 cm) is held in a vertical position using a retort
Previous experiments5 involving the speed of sound as a stand. For display purposes, the paddle used to excite the
function of temperature have involved more sophisticated resonance of the air column is shown wedged in the clamp of
and expensive equipment. We believe our approach is ideally the retort stand. Data are recorded and analyzed using a Lab-
suited for experimentation at the high school and under- Quest6 data logger and data analyzer shown to the right.
graduate level. Since the accurate accounting for the end cor- The pipe was clamped vertically as shown, with a clear-
rections at the “open end” and the “paddle end” are essential ance of roughly 20 cm from the floor. Even though the end
aspects of the experiment, we have included an appendix that correction for the “open end” of our pipe is 1.56 cm, any
contains additional information on the end effects. surface up to about 6 cm from the “open end” has an effect on
the resonance frequency (see appendix). The pipe was tapped
Explanatory and predictive framework (as with drumming) at the top end using a paddle made from
(basic theory) soft material. This excited the resonant frequency of the air
We begin with the well-known expression for the speed of column. The sound pressure was measured using the built-in
sound, c, as a function of temperature: microphone of the LabQuest. The LabQuest was triggered
with a trigger setting of 3 units. Ambient sound pressure was
c = 331.3(1 + Tc/273)1/2 . (1)
Table I.

Tc is the temperature of air in degrees Celsius. At room tem- Resonant

perature, where the temperatures are in the 20 °C range, the Tc +/- 0.2 (oC) frequency
first two terms of a binomial expansion lead to another well- f +/- 0.2 Hz
known expression for c (see, for example, Ref. 5), indicating 4.2 240.0
a linear dependence of speed on temperature.
8.2 241.9
c < 331.3 + 0.607Tc . (2)
9.8 242.0
Substituting the exact expression for c [Eq. (1)] into ,
15.0 244.4
the expression for the fundamental frequency of a pipe that
is open at both ends, yields 21.1 246.8
( c ) 21.4 246.8
. (3)
22.1 247.1
For open pipes, excited as in the Blue Man Group manner,
L can be written as L = L0 + DO + DP, where L0 is the physical 25.8 248.3
length of the pipe. DO is the end correction for the “open end”
Fig. 1. Simple apparatus for
and DP is the end correction for the “paddle end.” Substitut- a speed of sound versus
ing for L in Eq. (3) yields temperature experiment.

DOI: 10.1119/1.4745687 The Physics Teacher ◆ Vol. 50, September 2012 351
f = K(1+T/273)0.5/(2(L0+DL) In order to obtain accurate results for the speed of sound
Resonant Frequency (Hz)

L0 = 0.661 m
experiment described, it is important to make sure the end
DL = 0.035 m
246 effects are accounted for properly. Providing the “open end”
Fitted K = 331.1 +- 0.2 m/s
is not obstructed in any way, its end correction is 0.6133r 4,
where r is the radius of the PVC pipe. For the 2-in pipe used
in the experiments described above, this correction is
1.56 cm. We have found that any obstructing surface (for
example, the floor) that is closer than about 10 cm from the
“open end” affects the resonant frequency. Using the setup
25.0 30.0
shown in Fig. 3, one can investigate this effect experimentally.
0.0 5.0 10.0 15.0 20.0
Temperature (oC)
Figure 4 shows the resonant frequency (f ) versus the dis-
tance (d) of a plywood board from the “open end” of the 2-in
Fig. 2. Resonant frequency of air in a PVC pipe (2-in i.d.) vs tem- PVC pipe for a temperature of 19.4 °C. The dashed curve is a
perature. The physical length of the pipe was 66.1 cm.
smooth curve fit to the data. The resonant frequency without
obstruction is 246.3 Hz. As can be seen, with the board at a
around 2.5 units. Sound pressure was recorded for one sec- distance up to about 6 cm, the resonant frequency is affected.
ond at 8000 samples per second. The signal sound pressure The presence of the plywood board obviously changes the
was significant over only about 0.3 s. The experiment was boundary conditions at the “open end.” A quantitative expla-
carried out in several different rooms, all of which had differ-
ent but stable ambient temperatures. The apparatus was left
in each room for approximately half an hour before data were
taken. Temperature was monitored by a liquid-in-glass ther-
mometer with a least count of 0.2 °C and with a temperature
probe connected to the LabQuest. The LabQuest thermom-
eter and the liquid-in-glass thermometer agreed to within Fig. 3. Apparatus used to study
0.2 °C. The resonant frequency (f ) was measured by taking the resonant frequency of air
the FFT of the sound pressure signal using the built-in capa- in a PVC pipe (2-in i.d.) as a
bility of the LabQuest. The sound pressure signal was then function of the distance (d) of a
plywood board from the “open
downloaded to a computer and analyzed using Logger Pro.6
The two measurements of the frequency agreed to within
0.2 Hz. Typically Logger Pro gave two readings of the peak
frequency whereas LabQuest gave just one. Temperature and
resonant frequency are tabulated in Table I. The data points
of frequency versus temperature are plotted in Fig. 2.
Equation (5) was fit to the data using a nonlinear least-
square routine in a scientific spreadsheet and the variable
parameter K determined. The curve fit is shown by the solid
line. The value of K was found to be 331.1 +/- 0.2 m/s, in ex- 246

cellent agreement with the theoretical value of 331.3 m/s. As

can be seen the curve fit is very close to linear, as expected on
Resonant frequency f (Hz)

the basis of Eq. (2). 244

Length of 2 inch i.d. PVC pipe = 66.1 cm
Temperature = 19.4 oC
Discussion and conclusion 243 speed of sound = 342.9 m/s @ 19.4 oC
resonant frequency at d equals infinity = 246.3 Hz
This simple and inexpensive experiment can be easily 242
performed by high school students and beginning under-
graduates. As can be seen from Fig. 2, the agreement between 241

theory and experiment is better than 1%, providing the end 240
corrections at both ends of the pipe are properly accounted
for. 239
0 1 2 3 4 5 6
Distance of plywood board from “open end” of pipe d (cm)

Fig. 4. Plot of the resonant frequency of air in a PVC pipe (2-in

i.d.) vs the distance (d) of a plywood board placed near the “open
end” of the pipe.

352 The Physics Teacher ◆ Vol. 50, September 2012

Look What’s New
End correction at paddle end (DP) (m)

Fit to: DP = a ebr

0.024 a = 0.011 m

in The Physics Store!

b = 21.5 m-1



in Mechanics
0.015 0.020 0.025 0.030 0.035 0.040

radius of PVC pipe (r) (m)

Fig. 5. End correction of the “paddle end” of PVC pipes as a func-

tion of radius. This second edition of Charles Camp and John J.
nation of this behavior could prove to be a challenging exer- Clement’s book contains a set of 24 innovative lessons
cise even for upper-level undergraduates. Another interesting and laboratories in mechanics for high school physics
phenomenon that may be worth further experimentation is
classrooms that was developed by a team of teachers
the radial dependence of the “paddle end” correction. Figure
5 shows the dependence of the “paddle end” end correction and science education researchers. Research has shown
on the radius of the PVC pipe. that certain student preconceptions conflict with current
physical theories and seem to resist change when using
References traditional instructional techniques. This book provides
1. M. E. Bacon and Steven Torok, “An experimental investigation a set of lessons that are aimed specifically at these
of the end effects for Blue Man Group® pipes,” Phys. Teach. 49,
152–154 (March 2011). particularly troublesome areas: Normal Forces, Friction,
2. Blue man Group®, Newton’s Third Law, Relative Motion, Gravity, Inertia, and
instruments. Tension. The lessons can be used to supplement any course
3. Matthew Krumm and Sam Matteson, “Frequency dependence that includes mechanics. Each unit contains detailed
of end corrections for a pipe of circular cross section,” 2009
Spring Meeting of the Texas Section of the APS, AAPT, and
step-by-step lesson plans, homework and test problems,
SPS meeting, Abstract: M3.00003, April 2–4 (2009). Also pri- as well as background information on common student
vate communication Sam Matteson, September 2009. misconceptions, an overall integrated teaching strategy,
4. Harold Levine and Julian Schwinger, “On the radiation of and key aspects of the targeted core concepts. A CD of all
sound from an unflanged circular pipe,” Phys. Rev. 73 (4),
383–406 (1948). See also N. H. Fletcher and T. D. Rossing, The
duplication materials is included.
Physics of Musical Instruments, 2nd ed. (Springer, New York,
1999). Members: $28
5. S. Valasco, F. L. Roman, A. Gonzalez, and J. A. White, “A com- Non-Members: $35
puter assisted experiment for the measurement of the tempera-
ture dependence of the speed of sound in air,” Am. J. Phys. 72,
276–279 (Feb. 2004); Rand S. Worland and D. David Wilson,
“The speed of sound in air as a function of temperature,” Phys.
Teach. 39, 53–57 (Jan. 1999); and P. J. Ouseph and James J.
Link, “Variation of speed of sound in air with temperature,”
Am. J. Phys. 52(7), 661 (July 1984).
6. Vernier Software, 13979 SW Millikan Way, Beaverton, OR

Mike Bacon obtained his BSc (honors) degree from the University of Natal
(now the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal) in South Africa and his PhD from
Colorado State University. His initial work was in plasma spectroscopy
and plasma physics. For the past 35 years he has enjoyed working with Order yours now at
undergraduates on a variety of undergraduate research projects. He spent
1993-1995 in Lesotho as a Fulbright Scholar. He has taught in South
Africa, Lesotho and the United States. He enjoys traveling, particularly in
the Southern Hemisphere and snorkeling in the Caribbean.

The Physics Teacher ◆ Vol. 50, September 2012 353