World's biggest whoopee cushion helps kids understand the science of sound

A giant whoopee cushion, a barber's shop quartet transformed by technology into a rock band, and 4,500 schoolchildren encouraged to be noisy these are just some of the surprises being served up today (Thursday 5th October) in a groundbreaking science lecture at London's Royal Albert Hall.

'Beautiful Music, Horrible Sounds' aims to fascinate, amuse and inspire an audience of 7-14 year olds by exploring what sound is, why different sounds provoke positive and negative reactions, and how technology can be used to make sounds nicer or nastier. It will even explain why humans have two ears.

Trevor Cox, Professor of Acoustic Engineering at Salford University, will deliver this Royal Institution Science for Schools lecture. It is the biggest live event ever to be organised by the Royal Institution of Great Britain and their first-ever collaboration with the Royal Albert Hall. The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) funded the research that forms the basis of the lecture and helped to fund the development of the show.

Audience participation will feature strongly throughout the event. Volunteers will be encouraged to sit on a specially made 2 metre-diameter whoopee cushion the largest in the world to demonstrate exactly how wind instruments work. The physics involved when whoopee cushions make a noise is the same as blowing through the mouthpiece of a saxophone, for instance (although the sound produced is quite different!). Trevor's whoopee cushion will also be assessed at the event for a place in the Guinness World Records.

The audience will also be encouraged to make a noise to show their approval or disapproval when Professor Cox uses pitch-shifting and other state-of-the-art acoustic technology to give two 'live' pop acts a musical makeover: 'Phluffy Nice' is a solo singer in the classic boy band mould, while 'Grim Reaper' are a close harmony group who sing in a barber's shop style. Trevor Cox will explore whether technology could have the potential to make or break their bid for fame and fortune.

Trevor will also describe his 'BadVibes' project which aims to find the 'worst sound in the world', and will outline an initiative to discover how rooms can be designed to make music more beautiful and speech easier to understand. Both of these projects are funded by EPSRC.

"We want the children attending this unorthodox event to go away with a real sense that science in general, and acoustic science in particular, is intriguing, relevant and fun," says Professor Cox, who is an EPSRC Senior Media Fellow. "From a serious point of view, they'll have a much better understanding of the role that sound plays in their lives."


Notes for Editors

Professor Trevor Cox will be talking about 'Beautiful Music, Horrible Sounds' at the Royal Albert Hall on Thursday 5 October 2006. There will be two performances. The morning lecture is aimed at Key Stage 2 children (i.e. 7-11 year olds) and runs from 11am to 12am; the afternoon lecture is aimed at Key Stage 3 children (i.e. 11-14 year olds) and runs from 2pm to 3.30pm. A Teachers' Pack has been produced to accompany the event.

Established over 200 years ago, the Royal Institution of Great Britain aims to communicate scientific issues to the general public through high quality events that break down the barriers between science and society. It is the home of the annual Christmas lectures for young people. For more information, see the website at

The Royal Albert Hall has an ongoing education programme and, in view of the hall's character, the science of sound was an obvious topic for an outreach activity of this kind. For more information, see the website at

To find out more about the BadVibes initiative, see the website at

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is the UK's main agency for funding research in engineering and the physical sciences. The EPSRC is investing 650 million this year in research and postgraduate training, to help the nation handle the next generation of technological change. The areas covered range from information technology to structural engineering, and mathematics to materials science. This research forms the basis for future economic development in the UK and improvements for everyone's health, lifestyle and culture. EPSRC also actively promotes public awareness of science and engineering. EPSRC works alongside other Research Councils with responsibility for other areas of research. The Research Councils work collectively on issues of common concern via Research Councils UK. Website address for more information on EPSRC:

More information on EPSRC's Senior Media Fellowships can be found at: As a Senior Media Fellow, part of Professor Cox's role is to bring science, engineering and technology to a wider audience.

For more information, contact:

Professor Trevor Cox, University of Salford, Tel: 0161 295 5474, Mobile: 07986 557419, E-mail: [email protected]

Olympia Brown, Royal Institution of Great Britain, Tel: 020 7670 2969, E-mail: [email protected]

Images are also available from the EPSRC Press Office (see below for image details and suggested captions).

Image details:

'blackboardTrevor.jpg': 'All ears? Trevor Cox will be explaining why some sounds are unbearable' 'whoopeeTrevor.jpg': 'Whoopee for Science! Professor Trevor Cox is using the world's biggest whoopee cushion to help children understand how sound works'

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Apr 2016
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