|MadSci Network: Physics|
Lauren, I found some data-from a page at a site on pianos and tuners (who should care about sound and wood)- that indicates that not only is the type of wood important, but so is the direction in which the sound is traveling: http://www.uk-piano.org/sound.html. Using this site and converting to metric units, I found that in many woods, the speed of sound is close to 4500 meters per second (m/s) along the grain and 1500 m/s across the grain. The Physics book I have on my desk gives the speed of sound in Pyrex glass as 5640 m/s (Serway and Jewett, 2002, Principles of Physics, 3rd Edition, Volume 1) Other types of glass would be very similar, but perhaps not exactly the same. Because glass has the same properties in all directions (isotropic in physics-speak)the speed of sound in any particular piece of glass is the same in all directions. So, from this research, sound would appear to be slightly faster in glass than along the grain of wood and significantly faster in glass than across the grain of wood. The reason has to do primarily with properties of the material called density and elasticity. Density describes how much mass is in a specific-sized block. Mass is hard to define, but one way to think about it is as a measure of resistance to motion. Since sound waves involve moving the atoms of a material back and forth, more dense materials will tend to resist this motion. Therefore, as density goes up, speed of sound generally goes down. Elasticity is the ease with which a material can be stretched or will spring back once it is stretched. It is measured by something called the "bulk modulus," which relates the force applied to an object to the amount that the size of the object changes. If a small force causes a big change, the bulk modulus is small and the material is easily squashed. If a big force causes a small change, the bulk modulus is large and the object is stiff. Stiffer objects are better transmitters of sound waves and so as elastic modulus goes up, the speed of sound goes up, too. These relationships are not linear. Instead, speed is proportional to the square root of the bulk modulus divided by the square root of the density. An excellent reference to all things physics is the HyperPhysics web site: http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/hframe.html An interesting discussion of techniques to measure the speed of sound is found at www.aapt.org/tpt/pdf/jan02/apparatus_jan02.pdf along with a number of references to other resources. The vocabulary in this is pretty technical, but it's expressing relatively simple ideas. If you don't let the big words scare you off and you get some help to understand them, you should be able to get the idea. Berg, Richard E. and Stork, David G., The physics of sound, Prentice Hall, Inc., 1982 is a book written for beginning students and might also be useful for you to read. If your library doesn't have it, maybe they can get it for you through a process called inter-library loan. As for not being good in science: every human is born good in science - babies do science to survive - they experiment with their world and see what happens. Not everyone is good at what school teachers, popular culture, and others call science, but many scientists know that what goes on in school science classes is often not much like what real scientists do. It's especially unfortunate that girls are often expected to be poor in science (and in math, which is a vital tool of science) by both their peers and their teachers. If you like the idea of experimenting, then have a good time with it. Don't let anybody (especially not yourself!) tell you that you aren't good at this or that you can't do it. Some fun sound experiments to try can be found at: http://www.west.net/~science/sound.htm. David L. Smith Associate Professor of Geology, Environmental Science, and Physics La Salle University, Philadelphia, PA
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