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The Nature of Sound wave

Sound is a mechanical wave that is an oscillating of pressure transmitted through a liquid, solid or gas ,composed of frequencies within the range of hearing. Sound is restricted to the frequency range of 20 Hz to 20, 000 Hz to which the human ear is sensitive. Waves with frequencies below this audible range (1-20 Hz) are called infrasounds and those above (>20, 000Hz) are referred to as ultrasounds. Sound waves are longitudinal waves. They are produced by a series of vibrations parallel to the direction of travel of the waves.


Sources of Sound

Barking of a dog. Plucking the strings of a guitar. Chirping of a bird. Ticking of a clock.

Ringing of a bell.


Source of sound is a vibrating object.

Sound can travel through solids.

In earlier days, doctors used stethoscopes consisting of thin wooden rods with broadened ends. By placing one end to his ear and placing the other end on the patient's chest, he could hear the sound of the heart beats transmitted through the wood. Motor mechanics sometimes, use wooden rods as stethoscopes to assist in tracing the source of the knocking noises in engines. Cotton, wool and felt are poor conductors of sound. A piece of thread does not conduct sound when slack, but will conduct it well when stretched.

Sound can travel through liquids.

We know that water transmits sound. This can be shown by clapping two pieces of stone or metal against each other under water, when the sound of the clapping can be heard above the water. In 1654, Otto Von Guericke found that fish were attracted by the sound of a ringing bell underwater and therefore, concluded that sound could travel through water as well as air.

Sound travels with a finite velocity depending on the medium.

The following examples show that sound takes an appreciable time to travel from one place to another: *Though lightning and thunder are produced simultaneously, the flash of the lightning is seen much before the sound of the thunder. *When a gun is fired at some distance, the flash is seen before the sound is heard. *The puff of steam issuing from the whistle of a distant locomotive engine is seen before the sound is heard. *In a cricket match, the striking of the ball by the batsman is seen before hearing the sound.

Sound Waves Propagation

Sound is produced by the initiation of a succession of compressive and rareactive disturbances in a medium capable of transmitting these vibrational disturbances. The wave energy is passed along to adjacent particles as the periodic waves travel through the medium. Vibrating elements like reeds (clarinet, saxophone) strings (guitar, vocal chords), membranes (drum, loudspeaker), and air columns (pipe organ, flute) initiate sound waves. Sound waves are transmitted outward from their source by the surrounding air.

During propagation, waves can be reflected (change in direction of a wavefront at an interface between two different media), refracted (change in direction of a wave due to a change in its medium), or attenuated (the gradual loss in intensity of any kind of flux through a medium) by the medium. The behavior of sound propagation is generally affected by three things: *A relationship between density and pressure. *The motion of the medium itself. *The viscosity of the medium. Dense gases are better transmitter of sounds than rare gases.

Consider a vibrating tuning fork. As the prongs of the move fork back and forth, they disturb air molecules close to them creating a back and forth movement of the air parallel to the direction of the waves. These air molecules likewise transfer their motion to the neighboring particles and to the other molecules. The air molecules then strike your eardrum, making it vibrate.

Speed of Sound
Speed of sound = f where is the wavelength and f is the frequency of the wave. In any temperature in degrees Celsius, the speed of sound in air is determined by the equation v=330 m/s + [(0.6 m/s)/ C](T) The speed of sound in air is 331.3 m/s at 0 C. This speed increases with temperature about (0.6 m/s)/ C. The speed of sound in water is about four times the speed in air. In water at 25 C sound travels about 1,500 m/s. In some solids, the speed of sound is even greater like the steel rod which travels approximately 5, 000 m/s about 15 times the speed of air.

Speed of Sound (gas)

Density Velocity Substance (g/L) (m/s) GASES (STP) air, dry 1.293 331.35 carbon 1.977 259 dioxide helium 0.178 965 hydrogen 0.0899 1284 nitrogen 1.251 334 oxygen 1.429 316 v/T (m/s C) 0.59 0.4 0.8 2.2 0.6 0.56

Speed of Sound (liquid)

Substance Density (g/cm3) LIQUID (25 C) acetone alcohol, ethyl 0.79 0.79 1174 11207 Velocity (m/s)

carbon tetrachloride



water, distilled



water, sea



Speed of Sound (solid)

Substance Density (g/cm3) Velocity (m/s)


aluminum brass brick copper 2.7 8.6 1.8 8.93 5000 3480 3650 3810

glass, crown iron lucite steel

2.24 7.85 1.18 7.85

4540 5200 4110 5200

Sound Transmission
Most sounds come to us through the air that acts as the transmitting medium. At low altitudes, we usually have little difficulty hearing sounds. At higher altitudes, where the density of air is lower, less energy mar be transferred from the source to the air. Dense air is more efficient transmitter of sounds than the rarefied air. Sound does not travel through a vacuum; it is transmitted only through a material medium.

Receiving Sound Waves

The vibration moves on to the three bones of the middle ear connected to the eardrum, collectively known as ossicles, and then to the liquid of the coiled shape cochlea of the inner ear. The brains sound memory center stores message and identifies the sounds received The outer ear collects sound waves which pass through the ear canal.

Hair cells in the organ of Corti in the cochlea then vibrate The nerves at the hair cell pass on the message to the hearing center of the brain.

As they reach the eardrum at the end of canal, the eardrum vibrates