Sounds of New York, evidence for a preferred ear, ultrasound for the eye


Acoustics meeting in New York City

Melville, New York, April 21, 2004---Birds chirping, jackhammers rattling, steel drums playing, trains screeching, sopranos singing---these are some of the sounds of New York City in May. Researchers from around the world will discuss some of these sounds, and many others, at the 75th Anniversary Meeting of the Acoustical Society of America (ASA) from May 24-28 in New York City. All technical sessions will be held at the Sheraton New York Hotel and Towers, 811 7th Avenue (on 53rd Street), 212-581-1000. More than 1200 papers will be presented. No papers will be presented on Wednesday, May 26, the day that ASA celebrates its anniversary with special events, which are described at the end of this news release.

Acoustics is the science of sound and its applications. The ASA is the largest scientific organization in the United States devoted to acoustics, with over 7000 members worldwide.

ASA is planning a series of special events and news conferences on various meeting topics throughout the week of the meeting. The schedule will be available in early May. If you are interested in attending these news conferences, please fill out the reply form at the end of this news release. We also encourage you to use ASA's "World Wide Press Room" (located at By the week of May 16, the site will contain detailed lay-language descriptions of selected meeting papers as well as overviews of major acoustics topics. More information on how to cover the meeting can be found at the end of the release.

The following items describe some highlights from among the many papers being given at the meeting. Full abstracts of the papers mentioned below can be viewed by typing in the last name of the author or the appropriate paper code at the ASA Meeting Abstracts database: Entire sessions can be viewed by typing in the session code and an asterisk, e.g., "2pMU*." The first number of the paper code indicates the day of the talk, with "1" denoting the Monday of the meeting,"2" denoting Tuesday, and so on, up to "5" for Friday. Here are some highlights:

Paul Wheeler of Utah State University ([email protected]) will present a brief history of the technical development of musical instruments during the 20th century. Wheeler's history starts with early electronic instruments, such as the Theremin, the device that produces otherworldly tones for songs such as the Beach Boys' "Good Vibrations." His history progresses to the development of electronic organs, synthesizers, and computer music (Paper 2aMUb1). Musical instruments have mutated into many different forms, since designers of electronic instruments can now separate ergonomics from physical sound production. For example, musicians can wave virtual batons that trigger electronic sounds or blow into wind controllers that play synthesizers (see 2aMUb2). Joseph A. Paradiso of the MIT Media Lab ([email protected]) will review the status of electronic music controllers and present various examples of new musical interfaces developed at the MIT Media Lab (2aMUb3). On the acoustical side, Edward Kottick of the University of Iowa ([email protected]) will discuss the resurgence of the harpsichord, an instrument that was almost abandoned by musicians at the end of the 19th century as it was considered obsolete next to the piano (4pMU7).

Humans generally write with a preferred hand, and they read with a dominant eye. William Hartmann of Michigan State and his colleagues will present evidence for "earedness." In an experiment with 51 listeners, the researchers played a special stereo sound called the "Huggins pitch" (hear it at; the effect only works with stereo headphones). Despite the fact that the sound is symmetrical, or made to balance at the center, most listeners hear the Huggins pitch on one side of the head. Some hear it on the right; others hear it on the left. Two surveys, involving 51 listeners, found that these perceptions do not change when the headphones are reversed, or when one boosts the level in left or right ears in any way. (4aPP7)

One in 40,000 people in the US suffers from neurofibromatosis type II (NF2), a genetic condition in which benign tumors impinge upon auditory nerves. Doctors often remove the tumors, since there is a danger that they will encroach upon vital brain centers such as those that control breathing. Yet removing the growths usually severs both auditory nerves and causes profound deafness, which cannot be treated by any hearing aid or cochlear (inner-ear) implant. In a major development for the emerging field of "neuroprosthetics," researchers have designed the Penetrating Auditory Brainstem Implant (PABI). In this device, eight tiny electrodes are inserted directly into the auditory center of the brainstem, the structure at the base of the brain that is connected to the spinal cord. Designed by researchers at the House Ear Institute (HEI) in California and collaborators at Cochlear Corp. and the Huntington Medical Research Institutes in Pasadena, PABI is a followup to an earlier "auditory brainstem implant," introduced in 1979, in which electrodes are implanted only on the surface of the brainstem. The older ABIs stimulate the auditory brainstem directly and help users hear sounds, but they do not enable users to understand speech without lipreading. In contrast, the more sophisticated, deeply implanted PABI aims to give users the ability to detect tones and comprehend speech to a degree experienced by those who wear advanced cochlear implants. Bob Shannon of HEI will discuss results on the first patients who have received PABI (1aPP5; for more information, contact Christa Spieth Nuber, Media Relations, HEI, 213-273-8027, [email protected]).

Using optical methods and digital image processing, Carl Haber and Vitaliy Fadeyev of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory ([email protected]), and their colleagues have developed a non-destructive, non-contact method for digitizing old mechanical recordings such as 78 rpm shellac discs and Edison cylinders. Measuring the undulations in the grooves of the record to obtain audio information, the technique can allow archivists to recover old records and cylinders without using a needle (2pMU4; also see Patrick J. Wolfe of the University of Cambridge in England ([email protected]) will present state-of-the-art methods for restoring degraded audio (2pMU2), while Jonathan Berger of Stanford University ([email protected]) will unveil a novel two-step process for removing noise in recorded music (2pMU3). Masataka Goto of the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology in Japan ([email protected]) will discuss the SmartMusicKIOSK, a music-store CD-listening station that automatically finds the chorus section and other key parts of a song so that a user could jump to these sections without having to search for them with a fast-forward button (2pMU6).

Many New York City musicians sweeten the urban soundscape by playing their instruments in train stations, parks, alleys, and overpasses. Alexander Case of Fermata Audio + Acoustics in New Hampshire ([email protected]) will discuss how these alternative spaces can enhance the acoustics of the performance (4pAA6). Chetlur G. Balachandran of NYC consulting firm Parsons Brinckerhoff will present a computer model that can forecast the change in traffic noise between existing and future conditions. Utilizing real-world noise measurements of traffic, the model can help determine the number of new heavy trucks that could be introduced into the existing traffic stream without exceeding limits set by New York City noise regulations. (1pNS3). New York is planning to build a new Second Avenue subway line to ease congestion on the nearby Lexington Avenue line. Jessica L. Pristera of AKRF, Inc. in New York will describe the noise impacts that its construction and operation are expected to bring, along with practical ways to reduce the din of subway construction. (2pSA3)

Stefan Catheline of ESPCI in France ([email protected]) and colleagues have come up with an idea for transforming all objects in a room into touch-sensitive, remote control devices, even if they don't run on electricity. The idea is the following: touch any object in a room, and an acoustic detector records the sound or vibration from a touch. Then, employing a scheme known as "time-reversed" acoustics, the detector sends a reversed version of the soundwave to the object. After sending soundwaves back and forth several times between source and detector, the system is able to pinpoint exactly where the object lies in the room. One can therefore create "virtual switches" that perform certain functions in response to touch. For example, touching a part of a desk may activate lights or switch on a computer. Technically, this process only requires an acoustic sensor or two and a very small amount of computer power (5aEA9). In another paper, Lanbo Liu of the USA Cold Regions Res. and Eng. Lab. ([email protected]) will describe how time-reversed acoustics might be used to locate objects, such as the source of an explosion, in a noisy outdoor urban environment (5aPAa5).

Different animal species use sound to attract mates in an unexpected variety of ways. Several papers show how sound can provide important clues into animal behavior-while also being strange or funny. Andrea Simmons ([email protected]) and Dianne Suggs ([email protected]) of Brown University have discovered a new vocalization in the male bullfrog called the "stutter" in which individual croaks sound as if they have split up into shorter parts. The researchers have found that the stutters, occurring during a series of individual croaks, may be used in the context of attracting female mates (1aAB9). Heidi J. Pye of the University of New Hampshire ([email protected]) will describe how American lobsters produce buzzing vibrations when grasped. The tendency for larger lobsters to vibrate more consistently may suggest a role in mating behavior (2pAB6). Susan E. Parks of Cornell ([email protected]) and her colleagues have discovered that North Atlantic right whales make a brief broadband sound, which the researchers term a "gunshot" signal because it sounds like a rifle being fired. The lone whales making this sound were all mature males, so the researchers have concluded that the gunshot signal serves as either an antagonistic sound directed toward other males, an advertisement signal to attract females, or a combination of the two (4aAB12). Other talks will focus on birds' sophisticated hearing skills, which compare favorably to those in humans (2aPP3); the unique acoustical capabilities of the donkey, which can produce significant sound during both inhalation and exhalation (2pAB4); and the little-studied sound-production traits of the hippo, which can make sounds both in air and underwater (4pAB7).

While medical ultrasound has shown success in treating tumors in such regions as the prostate and liver, it has not been able to treat deeply buried tumors---until now. Cyril Lafon of INSERM in France ([email protected]) will describe new "interstitial" devices with specially placed flat ultrasound generators designed to destroy deep-seated tumors. "Clinical trials are now being performed for the thermal ablation of digestive tumors and preliminary results are extremely promising," he and his colleagues report (2aBB5). Jean-Luc Robert and Claude Cohen-Bacrie ([email protected]) of Philips Electronics in New York will describe a promising ultrasound method for detecting microcalcifications in the breast (5aBB4).

Acousticians are working to raise awareness of the negative effects that noise can have on children. Prudence Allen of the University of Western Ontario ([email protected]) will present a study on how noise affected the performance of children in grades 3-4 and 7-8 on standardized tests of oral reading, silent reading, and vocabulary. In the presence of noise, the older children exhibited reduced performance on the silent reading task (1aAA8). Bridget Shield of London South Bank University ([email protected]) will present noise-level measurements inside and outside 170 London schools. One finding: "the higher noise levels in London are associated with the areas of greater social deprivation" (5aNS5). Alice Holmes of the University of Florida ([email protected]) will review a series of studies on the prevalence of hearing loss and reported effects of hearing loss and tinnitus in adolescents and young adults (4pNSb6). On an encouraging note, Laura Warren ([email protected]) and colleagues at Columbia College Chicago found that elementary-school-age students who expressed preferences for loud music are actually listening to the music at lower-than-expected levels. Therefore, many students may not be listening to music as loudly as cultural stereotypes would suggest (4aPP1)

According to the World Health Organization, noise is an increasing public health problem. It can create adverse effects ranging from hearing impairment to sleep disruption and performance degradation at work and school. Leslie Blomberg of the Noise Pollution Clearinghouse in Vermont ([email protected]) will provide an overview the nature of noise in society (4pNSb1). Individual papers will assess the state of noise in Paris, Brazil, Japan, Mexico City, Berlin, Chicago, and numerous other places (sessions 5aNS and 5pNS). Giovanni Brambilla of the CNR-Institute of Acoustics in Italy ([email protected]) will describe noise in Rome, which he refers to as an "old problem" dating to 45 B.C., when Roman city law (Lex Julia Municipalis) limited carriage traffic in the urban center to specific times (5aNS1). Acoustician Dan Raichel ([email protected]) will discuss an "archaeological acoustics" approach to determine noise levels in cities of past centuries, by studying historical records and measuring noise sources such as the clopping of horses (5pNS3). Cay Hehner of the Technical University of Berlin ([email protected]) will discuss an idea for improving soundscapes with tax breaks (2aNS6).

The brain is arguably the final frontier for medical ultrasound. It's the most difficult part of the body in which to aim ultrasound: The skull causes ultrasound to bounce around drastically, making it very hard to focus at the desired location. However, the payoffs of brain ultrasound would be enormous: the ability to remove brain tumors without surgical incision or large amounts of ionizing radiation; the possibility of delivering drugs through the blood-brain-barrier; and the ability to detect brain injuries at the scene of an accident. Researchers will report progress in brain ultrasound in various papers, including 2aBB1 and 5aBB1. In the meantime, researchers are just beginning to explore medical ultrasound's potential to treat heart disorders. Sound can potentially remove diseased portions of the heart which occur in such conditions as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, an excessive thickening of heart muscle. Researchers will describe experiments that have shown the feasibility of ultrasound treatments in the beating heart (2aBB10, 2aBB9, 2aBB2). Finally, Ronald H. Silverman of Weill Medical College of Cornell University in New York ([email protected]) and his colleagues have developed a series of very-high-frequency ultrasound instruments that can provide exceedingly detailed information on the eye. Their techniques have allowed them to obtain data on the entire cornea and determine the thickness of each corneal layer, as well as the surgically induced interface produced in LASIK, the most common form of laser eye surgery. In addition to catching surgically produced defects in the eye, the acoustical instruments can potentially detect eye tumors, cysts, foreign bodies, and other corneal problems (1aBB4).

At a special evening lecture (1eID1) concert hall expert Leo Beranek ([email protected]), a recent winner of the National Medal of Science, will discuss how architectural features affect the acoustics of symphonic music in a concert hall. Beranek will present a list of 58 halls ranked according to their acoustical quality based on interviews of music critics and conductors. Then, he will compare modern acoustical measurements of these halls with their rankings. Beranek will also speak at session 1pAAa, in which researchers explore the interaction between the visual and auditory aspects of the concert hall experience.

A recent study by Swedish researchers has suggested that humming may be helpful in avoiding sinusitis. Since the sinuses produce significant amounts of nitrous oxide (NO) gas, the researchers measured NO levels in the nasal pathways of 10 healthy subjects. The researchers found that the NO levels in the nostrils increased 15 times during periods of humming compared to times of normal, quiet exhalation. The researchers think that humming creates oscillating airflows in the sinuses which increase nasal ventilation. Testing this hypothesis that humming creates resonances in the nasal tract and sinus cavities, the researchers are now exploring the various factors that make humming most effective in clearing the sinuses of gas. For example, they have found that modulating, or varying, the oscillations in airflow has a significant effect on the amount of NO gas that enters the nostrils from the sinuses. (5aBB10, Johan Sundberg, KTH, Sweden, [email protected])

Many nations are working vigorously to remove the millions of landmines buried in over 90 countries around the globe. What makes this difficult task even more daunting is that there are an estimated 350 types of anti-personnel landmines. Acousticians have been demonstrating success in developing systems that detect many kinds of mines, including the small plastic ones that evade metal detectors. In general, the acoustic systems generate small seismic waves, which gently shake small areas of the ground and then use lasers or radar beams to detect the distinct vibrations of ground containing buried landmines. Many leading developers of these systems will report their latest progress in sessions 1aPAa, 1aPAb, and 1pPAa. Some highlights: the use of ultrasound to detect landmines (1pPAa10, James Sabatier, University of Mississippi, [email protected], and paper 1pPAa9, Jim Martin, Georgia Tech, [email protected]); tests of a "fusion" approach that combines seismic, radar and electromagnetic techniques (1pPAa2, Waymond Scott, Jr., Georgia Tech, [email protected]); latest version of a "nonlinear acoustics" detection system, which vibrates the ground and records the new frequencies generated by buried landmines (1aPAb1, Dimitri Donskoy, Stevens Institute of Technology, [email protected]); landmine detection using time-reversed acoustics, which locates mines by aiming sound waves at the ground and generating reversed versions of the rebounded sound waves to pinpoint a mine's location (1aPAb8, Alexander Sutin, Stevens Institute of Technology, [email protected]).

Improving opera acoustics is the subject of numerous sessions (2aAAa, 2aAAb, 2pAAa, 2pAAb). Remarkably, the voice of an opera soloist can often reach an audience at almost the same levels as the music of an entire orchestra. However, a major challenge is to ensure the right balance between vocals and orchestra. To find solutions to this problem, some acousticians are turning to "auralization," or virtual acoustics, in which computer simulations, based on physics and mathematical models, test the acoustics of a hall. Linda Parati ([email protected]) and her colleagues at the University of Ferrara in Italy have used auralization to identify aspects of hall architecture, such as the slope of the stage, that control the balance (2aAAb5). Exploring opera house design, Takuya Hotehama of Kobe University in Japan ([email protected]) is exploring new shapes for opera halls by using a "genetic algorithm," a computer model that combines the best-performing virtual halls (the "parents") to generate hybrid designs ("children") with the best characteristics of the parents. By using this approach, Hotehama and colleagues have identified a leaf-shaped opera hall as an optimal design, which would represent a departure from the traditional horseshoe-shaped design (2aAAb4).


Researchers have developed the stunning ability to transmit sound from a single point to multiple locations simultaneously-with each receiver getting potentially different messages. Session 2aSPa will feature various experimental demonstrations of this technique. For example, Heechun Song of the Marine Physical Laboratory/Scripps Institute of Oceanography ([email protected]) will discuss underwater experimental transmissions of binary data simultaneously to multiple depths using this technique (2aSPa3). Philippe Roux of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography ([email protected]) will discuss the concept of an "acoustic TV," the underwater transmission of sound waves to simultaneously "light up" multiple pixels in an array of receivers. The acoustic TV opens up the possibility of efficiently transmitting full-motion video underwater with acoustic waves (2aSPa8).

Reporters covering the meeting for their publication or program may obtain a reporters' badge by going to the registration area at the Princess Ballroom on the second floor of the Sheraton. Please show your reporters' credentials when requesting a badge.

Please note that there will be no meeting pressroom, but for any assistance on the meeting program or in arranging interviews, please feel free to contact Ben Stein at 240-506-1863 (cellphone number from May 22-28) or [email protected] throughout the entire meeting.

The Sheraton New York Hotel and Towers (811 7th Avenue, New York, NY 10019, 800-223-6550) is the headquarters hotel. A block of rooms at special rates will be available until May 1, 2004, pending availability. You may mention the Acoustical Society of America for the special rates. More information can be found at

ASA will celebrate its 75th anniversary in a day of special events on Wednesday, May 26. Reporters who wish to attend these events should contact Ben Stein at [email protected].

The celebration will begin at 8:30 a.m. at City Center (55th Street between Avenue of the Americas and 7th Avenue), with a plenary session and awards ceremony. There will then be a "Celebratory Look into the Future" with presentations from young acoustical researchers.

Later in the day, there will be various tours, including a trip to see two of New York's finest musical organs, at St. Peter's Lutheran Church and Episcopal Church of St. Mary the Virgin. At 7PM, there will be an organ concert at the St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Manhattan.

For more information on the special events at the meeting, see

New York City is the place where the Acoustical Society of America held its first meeting, from May 10-11, 1929. Back in 1929, radio was the dominant entertainment medium. Films with recorded soundtracks, or "talkies," had only been out for two years. Hi-fi stereos were unavailable... The concept of ultrasound was mostly unknown except to some laboratory scientists.

Fast forward to ASA's 147th Meeting in May. Consumers can now listen to music in surround sound. An estimated 80 to 90 million ultrasound scans are performed in the US alone. Ships have sophisticated sonar systems. Scientists now know many details of the sophisticated biosonar systems in bats and dolphins. Hearing aids help millions of people, and new brainstem implants can restore the sensation of sound to those with the most severe forms of deafness. Sound continues to find innovative new uses, from cooling objects in a refrigerator to destroying tumors without surgical incision. Acoustics continues to explode with activity.

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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