International Year of Sound 2020

The Science of Sound

Acoustics is the science of sound and vibration. Acoustics is comprised of many disciplines and is actively researched by researchers in many fields..

Acoustics throughout History

Acoustics has been an increasingly active field over the last several decades. But with speech and hearing and music being a part of humanity for millenia, it is not surprising that examples of acoustical research can be found dating back centuries.

Here are some examples of acoustics through the ages:

  • 6000 BC: Water wave designs appear on potteries of the Yangshao culture
  • 2000 BC: Musical scales and instruments studied in China
  • 500 BC: Greek philosopher Pythagoras investigates the properties of vibrating strings that produce pleasing musical intervals
  • 350 BC: Aristotle correctly suggests that a sound wave propagates in air through motion of the air
  • 20 BC: Vitruvius, a Roman architectural engineer contributes substantially to the acoustic design of theatres
  • 1030 AD: Abū Rayhān al-Bīrūnī posits that the speed of sound is much less than the speed of light
  • 1635: French scientist and philosopher Pierre Gassendi makes the earliest known attempt at measuring the speed of sound in air.
  • 1636: Marin Mersenne studies of the vibration of stretched strings culminates in the three Mersenne’s laws and his Harmonicorum Libri provides the basis for modern musical acoustics
  • 1681: Robert Hooke, an English physicist, is the first to produce a sound wave of known frequency, using a rotating cog wheel as a measuring device
  • 1787: Chladni introduces a technique of observing standing-wave patterns on vibrating plates by sprinkling sand onto the plates
  • 1826:The speed of sound in water is measured by Daniel Colladon, a Swiss physicist
  • 1807: The analysis of a complex periodic wave into its spectral components is theoretically established by Jean-Baptiste-Joseph Fourier of France. This is now commonly referred to as the Fourier theorem.
  • 1816: The first stethoscope, for the amplification of body sounds, is invented by a French physician, René Laënnec
  • 1858: American scientist John LeConte developes a technique for observing the existence of ultrasonic waves with a gas flame, initiating the study of ultrasonics
  • 1877: The first device to record and play back sounds, the phonograph, is developed by American inventor Thomas Alva Edison
  • 1877: The English physical scientist John William Strutt, 3rd Baron Rayleigh, publishes his two-volume treatise The Theory of Sound after carrying out an enormous variety of acoustic research. This publication marks the beginning of modern acoustics.
  • 1898: Wallace Sabine determines the relationship between reverberation time of a room and the room volume, surface wall area and wall absorption — this relationship is now known as the Sabine formula
  • 1960: Decades of experimentation on the ear and hearing by Hungarian-born American physicist Georg von Békésy, laying the foundation for the field of cochlear mechanics, culminates in his book Experiments in Hearing

© 2017-2019 International Commission for Acoustics