Talking robots, green buildings, and shockwave healing


Acoustics meeting features diverse results

Melville, New York, April 12, 2005---Do students change their accents shortly after they enroll in college? How can ultrasound trigger healing in bone fractures that are otherwise very stubborn to mend? Could airplane noise lower a student's test scores?

These and other questions will be addressed at the joint meeting of the Acoustical Society of America (ASA) and the Canadian Acoustical Association (CAA), to be held May 16-20, 2005 at the Hyatt Regency Vancouver Hotel (655 Burrard Street, Vancouver, BC V6C 2R7, Canada, 604-639-4820). Over 1050 papers will be presented, making it one of the largest acoustics meetings to date. ASA ( is the largest scientific organization in the United States devoted to acoustics. CAA ( is a professional, interdisciplinary organization devoted to acoustics in Canada.


We encourage you to visit ASA's "World Wide Press Room" (located at before and during the meeting. By the week of May 2, the site will contain lay-language versions of selected meeting papers. These papers will enable you to cover the meeting, even if you can't leave your desk.


Reporters covering the meeting can receive a complimentary press badge to attend all sessions. Please fill out the reply form if you are interested in attending the meeting. Ben Stein ([email protected], 301-209-3091) and Martha Heil ([email protected]; 626-354-5613) of the American Institute of Physics will be available both remotely and on-site to facilitate your requests, from contacting speakers at the meeting to obtaining background material on meeting topics.


Full abstracts of the papers mentioned in this news release can be viewed at the Meeting Abstracts Database ( by typing in the last name of the author or the appropriate paper code. Entire sessions can be viewed by simply typing in the session code followed by a star (e.g., 1aBB*). In addition, typing a general subject (such as "guitar") or a particular university or city (such as "Toronto") may provide other results of interest.


The following items describe some highlights from among the many papers being given at the meeting.


With rising energy prices and depleting natural resources, builders have increased construction of "green buildings"--those that save energy and water while producing less pollution. However, can green buildings inadvertently result in noisier, acoustically problematic environments? At session 1pAA, academics and other local building professionals will come together to discuss the challenges and solutions for producing good acoustics in these buildings. Michael Noble of BKL Consultants in Vancouver ([email protected]) points out that green buildings are typically designed with large openings to bring in fresh air, and smaller openings to let air out, a situation that can severely limit a room's ability to shield itself from outside noise (Paper 1pAA4). Acoustical consultant Cornelis Overweg of Acetech, Inc. ([email protected]) in California explains that typical devices for controlling fan and ventilation noise often consume larger amounts of energy (1pAA5). Nonetheless, solutions are possible. For example, Jian Kang of the University of Sheffield in England ([email protected]) will present an acoustic window that allows natural ventilation while reducing noise transmission. The main idea is to stagger two layers of glass to enable ventilation while using transparent micro-perforated absorbers to reduce noise (1pAA7).


A major theme of the meeting is how to improve listening conditions for children in classrooms, with talks on potential solutions, costs, and case studies (sessions 1aAA, 2aAA, 2pAAa), as well as an evening forum for academics, non-academics with stakes in the issue, and members of the general public to exchange ideas, discuss concerns, and raise awareness of the topic (Wednesday evening, May 18). Major new studies are emerging that suggest the importance of a quiet listening environment for students. Steven Stansfeld of the Queen Mary's School of Medicine and Dentistry in London will report on the RANCH (Road Traffic and Aircraft Noise Exposure and Children's Cognition and Health) project, one of the largest studies of noise and children's health yet conducted. By studying 2844 children between 9-10 years of age in schools around three major European airports, the researchers found that chronic aircraft noise exposure impaired reading comprehension and recognition memory (a form of visual memory) (1aAA1). Measuring environmental noise around 140 schools in London, Bridget Shield of London South Bank University ([email protected]) discovered evidence that higher noise levels resulted in lower scores on standard tests in reading, writing, mathematics, English, and science (1aAA10). (For more information on the classroom acoustics events as well as the green buildings session, contact session organizer/general meeting chair Murray Hodgson, University of British Columbia, [email protected]).


Shock waves, high-pressure acoustic disturbances that travel from one region to another, are already used to break up kidney stones. But new uses have emerged. Austrian surgeon Wolfgang Schaden ([email protected]) will describe the use of shock waves on patients to heal non-union fractures, those that fail to heal after 6-9 months (1aBB1). Joerg Hausdorf of the Ludwig-Maximilians-University in Munich ([email protected]) found that shock waves increased the presence of molecular compounds that promote bone healing (1aBB3). Orthopedic surgeon John P. Furia of SUN Orthopedics and Sports Medicine in Pennsylvania will present the use of shock waves to treat chronic heel spurs (plantar fasciitis) and tennis elbow. (1aBB4). In a randomized, double-blinded human clinical trial, Kenneth Pace of the University of Toronto ([email protected]) discovered that breaking up kidney stones was more effectively achieved by administering only 60 shock waves a minute instead of the usual 120, especially for medium sized stones in the 100 mm2 size range (1aBB7).


From Thailand to Sri Lanka, on both sides of the Bay of Bengal, there were reports of animals running to safety well before the December 26, 2004 southeast Asia tsunami struck. Sri Lanka is far from the epicenter of the Sumatran earthquake. Did the earthquake supply the only warning? Or is it possible that the tsunami itself radiated seismoacoustic signals of sufficient strength and frequency for some animals (such as elephants) to detect and interpret long before it struck shore? Srinivasan Jagannathan and Nick Makris of MIT ([email protected]), along with Purnima Ratilal from Northeastern University, investigate this possibility through numerical models that consider the seismic-radiation potentials of tsunamis in deep water and on the continental shelf. Such information is likely to determine additional ways to detect warning signs of tsunamis. (1pAOb2)


In efforts to learn more about the human vocal mechanism and how it creates speech, researchers at Waseda University in Tokyo have created an "anthropomorphic talking robot" called WT-4 (Waseda Talker No. 4). WT-4 contains robotic parts for lungs, vocal cords, tongue, lips, teeth, nasal cavity and soft palate. The talking robot can produce vowel and consonant sounds by mimicking vibrations of the vocal cords. Kotaro Fukui ([email protected]) will show that mimicking speech control is effective in producing fluent continuous speech by the talking robot. (4aSC1; see additional information and video at Eiji Shintaku at Waseda University ([email protected]) will present a more sophisticated vocal cord design for the next version of the robot, WT-5 (4aSC13). Edgar Flores and Sidney Fels of the University of British Columbia ([email protected]) will present a robotic jaw capable of producing the complex set of motions of a human jaw during speech (4aSC8).


Just as astronomers view the stars at different wavelengths, from gamma rays to radio waves, acousticians are interested in all wavelengths of sound, from the highest registers of ultrasound to the lowest rumbles of infrasound, defined as the frequencies below which humans can hear. Researchers are increasingly listening to infrasound signals traveling through the Earth, to learn about an increasing number of phenomena on our planet. A day-long symposium (sessions 2aPA and 2pPA) explores some of these uses of infrasound, which include: rapidly identifying explosive volcanic eruptions (2aPA2), listening to meteor showers (2aPA7), cyclones (2aPA2), and earthquakes (2pPA3, 2pPA5), and detecting signs of nuclear weapons tests anywhere in the world (2pP10). Drawing upon observations from seismometers around the Pacific, Barbara Romanowicz of UC Berkeley ([email protected]) will present a proposed explanation for the source of an enigmatic hum in the Earth, only a few millihertz in frequency, which occurs even in the absence of earthquakes (1pPA1). Milton Garces of the University of Hawaii ([email protected]) will explore why infrasound stations in the Pacific and Indian Oceans recorded airborne sound produced during the December 26, 2004 Sumatran earthquake - and very possibly during the generation of the tsunami - in an effort to learn how infrasound can best be used to monitor the impact of underwater and near-shore earthquakes (2aPA1).


The blood-brain barrier (BBB) is an anatomical structure that prevents larger molecules in the bloodstream from entering the brain. These larger molecules include ones that would be harmful to the brain, but also many potentially useful ones such as drugs that would be effective for treating brain cancer. Recently, acousticians discovered that ultrasound could safely open up the BBB. Moreover, this process is reversible: the BBB closes naturally--typically a few hours after the ultrasound is applied. Pierre Mourad of the University of Washington ([email protected]) will provide an overview of the research that has been done on this topic to date, and discuss potential applications (2aBB1). Kullervo Hynynen and his colleagues at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Massachusetts ([email protected]) have discovered that ultrasound can open up specific regions of the BBB, potentially enabling physicians to someday send drugs to specific parts of the brain. The researchers say that this may be an especially powerful tool since MRI scans could help physicians guide an ultrasound beam to the desired target (2aBB2).


A new study suggests that that university students shift their spoken accent from a regional one associated with their hometowns to a more general one associated with university style speech. Study authors Bronwen Evans ([email protected]) and Paul Iverson at University College in London found that students who were highly motivated to fit in with their university community changed their accent more (2aSC11). Tatiana I. Shevchenko and Natalia Uglova of Moscow State Linguistic University ([email protected]) pinpointed a distinctive feature in the speech of TV newscasters: very brief pauses, on average about 14 times shorter than the average length of an uninterrupted spoken phrase (4aSC19). In efforts to differentiate between the various regional dialects in the Western US, Jennifer Ingle and colleagues at the University of Washington ([email protected]) will present a study aiming to determine the distinctive vowel pronunciations of residents in the Seattle neighborhood of Ballard. (2pSC14). Robert Hagiwara of the University of Manitoba ([email protected]) will present early results from an experimental study that attempts to elucidate the distinctive ways in which Canadians pronounce English vowels (2pSC23).


Among stringed instruments, the harp is somewhat unusual in that the strings directly transfer their energy to a soundboard (the frame of the harp), rather than through a bridge, as is the case with a guitar, cello, or violin. This makes the design challenges of the harp quite unique. Several papers explore the latest physics knowledge and engineering possibilities on the harp in the context of practical instrument design. As Chris Waltham of the University of British Columbia ([email protected]) points out, one must make the soundboard light enough so that it radiates sound efficiently, and the strings tight enough so that they can produce the right harmonic relationships (5aMU8). Thomas J. Royston of the University of Illinois ([email protected]) will discuss the use of carbon-fiber composite materials to replace the harp's typically wooden soundboard, with the goal of leading to improved durability and long-term stability (4aSA3). Placing position sensors on small and large harps, Gary Chan of the University of British Columbia has studied the motion of harp strings, to gain further details on how its beautiful sounds are produced. (5aMU9)


Session 3aNS explores hearing-protection practices in noisy industries. In a new study, William Daniell of the University of Washington ([email protected]) in Seattle and his colleagues evaluated noise exposures and hearing conservation practices at 76 companies in eight industries. Nearly all companies in these industries had noise levels that required hearing conservation programs. However, the researchers discovered that more than one-third of the companies did not conduct annual training, and hearing protection was commonly underused. "The industries with greatest margin for improvement," the authors write, "are not the noisiest industries, but those where exposure is moderate or intermittent" (3aNS1). Analyzing hearing-test results for employees of 14 British Columbia lumber mills between 1978 and 2003, Hugh Davies of the University of British Columbia ([email protected]) found a reduction in the percentage of workers with hearing problems over time as the industry adopted hearing conservation programs (3aNS2). Adriana Lacerda and colleagues at the University of Montreal ([email protected]) have obtained evidence that workers chronically exposed to low levels of carbon monoxide in a noisy environment may also experience hearing problems at high frequencies. (3aNS8)


Acousticians continue to discover new abilities in human hearing and acoustic perception. Lawrence Rosenblum and Ryan Robart ([email protected]) of the University of California at Riverside explored the ability of listeners to "hear" the shapes of surfaces that occlude (block out) sound. In the experiments, blindfolded listeners were asked to judge the shape of surfaces that occluded the sound of loudspeakers broadcasting white noise. Overall, the listeners were successful in this task, with some listeners showing nearly perfect performance. "The findings suggest a type of auditory sensitivity not often considered in the psychoacoustics literature," the authors write (5aPP2). Another paper suggests a new way in which humans may be able to distinguish the sound of a piano from that of a violin. The common explanation is that an E note on a piano has differing levels of various frequencies (overtones) than the same E note on a violin. But Rolf Bader of the University of Hamburg ([email protected]) has identified another possible factor: the "microrhythms" in the initial bursts of sound from an instrument. He defines "microrhythm" as the time between two successive peaks in the intensity of the sound wave associated with an instrument. Studying the violin, the guitar, the saxophone, the clarinet, and percussion instruments, Bader found that instrument families had distinctive microrhythm patterns, possibly aiding listeners in identifying instrument families. (3aMU11)


Salmon populations in the Northwest are delicate and need constant management. Acoustics tools are helping researchers to count and monitor salmon populations with new levels of detail. Michael F. Lapointe of the Pacific Salmon Commission ([email protected]) will describe the potential--and challenges--of using acoustics technology to track such factors as the number of salmon that reach key spawning sites (1aAO1). Tracey Steig of Hydroacoustic Technologies in Seattle ([email protected]) will present an acoustical technique for tracking the swimming patterns of downstream salmon in three dimensions (1aA05). John A. Holmes ([email protected]) of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, a Canadian federal agency, will discuss the use of a sonar technique called DIDSON (dual-frequency identification sonar), which produces images of fish using sound, for monitoring the number of salmon entering tributaries in the Fraser River (British Columbia) to spawn. He and his colleagues found that DIDSON can estimate the abundance of spawning populations with accuracy equal to or better than traditional methods and at lower costs (1aAO6). David Welch of Kintama Research Corporation in Canada ([email protected]) will present the first-year results from the Pacific Ocean Shelf Tracking Project (POST), which is developing a permanent contintental-scale acoustic tracking network to measure the movement and survival of young salmon as they migrate along the continental shelf of the Pacific Northwest (2aAO1).


To sense the world around them, bats emit ultrasound pulses and then detect their echoes as they bounce from objects in their environment. Aiming to gain new information on the highly developed but incompletely understood bat biosonar, Hiroshi Riquimaroux of Doshisha University in Japan ([email protected]) will present a microphone system, called the Telemike, that is mounted on a bat's head. It measures acoustic characteristics of emitted pulses and returning echoes. The system allows the researchers to monitor what the bat listens to during its flight. Riquimaroux will present and discuss some of the evidence found by the Telemike (4aAB7). Drawing inspiration from airborne sonar systems such as those possessed by bats, Iftekhar Alam and Ashok Ghatol of the Pune Institute of Technology in India ([email protected]) will present high-resolution "ultrasonic eyeglasses" intended as a vision substitution aid for blind persons (3aPP1).


Most of today's acoustic guitars are built according to guidelines from the nineteenth century. However, guitar makers are constantly seeking to improve quality-control and push guitar design to its limits. Drawing upon the latest research, Bernard Richardson of Cardiff University in the UK ([email protected]) will examine various important design aspects---for example choice of materials, body size, soundboard thickness---that could help lead to informed design decisions (5aMU4). Rolf Bader of the University of Hamburg will present a computer model that explores how the different parts of a guitar interact in order to produce its sound. This computer model allows the sounds of the different parts of the guitar to be heard separately, which cannot be done experimentally with actual guitars and therefore could also serve guitar builders in their work. This kind of physical model promises to lead to improved guitar sounds on synthesizers (2aMU3). Joseph Dickey of Johns Hopkins and James Rae, now at the Mayo Clinic of Medicine ([email protected]), will describe the design of the banjo, typically under-represented in the acoustics literature, but promising to be a rich area of study in musical acoustics (papers 4aSA1 and 5aMU6).


149th ASA Meeting, Vancouver British Columbia, May 16-20, 2005
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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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