5 Bizarre Ways You Won't Believe Sound Screws With Your Body
Science has been messing with light like a middle-school bully since forever: shoving it all together to make a laser beam, bending it to make invisibility cloaks, giving it wedgies until it stops altogether. Maybe it's time to pick on something else. Might we suggest sound? It doesn't seem as sexy as light, but by noogie-ing sound into submission, you can make it do some pretty amazing stuff. Like...
Collapse Your Lungs
Immediately after every discovery in existence, someone has asked that all-important question: "can we kill people with this?" As much as we wish they'd kick that guy out of the science club, he's usually right, and sound is no different. Science has discovered that there is a certain volume that can cause injury, and not just to your eardrums. Specifically, volumes over 200 decibels can rupture your lungs. That's a difficult thing to achieve -- standing right in front of a jet engine at takeoff only exposes you to a paltry 150 decibels -- but there are a few extreme situations that can get you there ... like going to a metal concert.
Yep, there have indeed been documented instances of the most metal thing ever -- blowing out the lungs of your audiences with a bitchin' solo. It's called pneumothorax (which, incidentally, is a hell of a name for a metal band), and it's a fancy sounding term for having your lungs bassed so hard that they explode. It really only happens when oblivious or masochistic fans stand directly in front of the speakers. But of course we couldn't leave it as mere accidental injury. Science is looking at ways to tame and weaponize this effect. What they've come up with is called a "sound bullet."
Sound bullets are still mostly the realm of science fiction, but scientists have developed a small-scale device inspired by Newton's cradle - that row of hanging ball bearings on your professor's desk that no living being can resist flicking. The developers of the sound gun scaled up their incessant clacking by lining 21 of these things up together and focusing the resulting racket through an acoustic "lens."
"EMPTY THE REGISTER OR I'LL FUCKING WASTE YOU!"
It's thought that the technology could be intensified to a point where it could punch holes in bunkers or sink submarines. Or, on a more benevolent note, they could be used to kill tumors -- although technically that's a side effect of killing a whole person anyway.
Nobody wants to be around teenagers except for old perverts, marketing departments, and other teenagers. If you wish there was a way to get unruly teens off your lawn without brandishing a shotgun, a company called Moving Sound Tech has the answer: Play an annoying sound that only teenagers can hear.
Your parents' mattress squeaking?
The Mosquito is a device named for the ultrasonic sound it emits -- a high-pitched, piercing, God-make-it-stop buzzing. The kicker is that it can be adjusted to be age-specific. See, human hearing starts to degrade in our 20s, before most of us have even reached our sexual base camp, much less our sexual peak. So there are sounds that nobody but teenagers can hear, beyond "clean your room" or "be nice to Grandma." Because the Mosquito is basically a reverse dog whistle for young people, it's popularly marketed to convenience stores and businesses throughout Britain and the U.S. as a means of deterring loiterers and vandals.
But, like all good weapons, the Mosquito was eventually reverse-engineered by the enemy. The concept is now being used in cell phones to emit ringtones that adults can't hear in order to hide incoming calls. Dang teenagers. Back in our day, we had sounds weaponized against us all the time and we liked it.
It was called "hair metal."
Twist an Echo Into an Entirely Different Sound
An echo is the sound equivalent of a reflection. So if you shouted into a canyon and heard an animal sound bounce back instead of your own voice, it would be like walking in front of a mirror and seeing a goat stare back at you. You'd have to change everything you believe about reality. You would at least have to start being much nicer to goats.
At least in real life.
Yet that's basically what happens at the Temple of Kukulcan, an 1,100-year-old ruin in Mexico. When you stand at the base of its steps and clap your hands, the echo that comes back is a dead ringer for a bird call. Specifically, it sounds like the distinct "poo-yah" of the quetzal, a bird that was worshipped in the area.
The reason behind the bizarre effect has less to do with ancient Maya bird-sorcery and more to do with "Bragg scattering," which occurs when you bounce sound off of an angled surface. It's actually the strangely shaped pyramid stairs that warp your clap into a squawking bird, or if you're sitting on the bottom steps, transform the sound of footsteps into that of falling rain. Scientists aren't sure if the Mayas did this on purpose, considering that they left behind no written records bragging about their own genius to future generations, which is the very first thing any self-respecting inventor does upon completion of their invention. But considering that the effect simulates rain, which was sacred to the Mayas, and communication with the same bird-god worshipped at the temple, we're going to go ahead and assume the Mayas were just super modest. The sanctimonious pricks.
Whisper Over Great Distances
Back in the 1800s, people reported hearing ghostly whispers in St Paul's Cathedral. While most probably chalked it up to some holy spirits, future Nobel Prize Winner Lord Rayleigh figured there were different forces at work here. And that's why he has a Nobel Prize and John Edward doesn't.
He also has his own number, which is the ratio of heat lost through conduction to how full of shit John Edward is.
Rayleigh deduced that a unique type of sound wave was responsible. He called them "whispering gallery waves," and they occur when sounds hug a circular or elliptical wall or ceiling. This results in them weakening at a fraction of the rate that they would through open space, though they can only be heard if you're standing on the other side of the arch. This is often an unexpected and unintended architectural phenomenon, as it was in the medieval Agrigento Cathedral in Sicily. Confessions at the cathedral were held in private, but at a certain spot behind the high altar some 250 feet away, every scandalous tidbit from the confessional area could be heard clear as a bell. Eventually this was discovered by accident, followed by what we're assuming was some truly epic blackmailing.
Here's the truly strange part: Whispering gallery waves only work on whispers. Speak softly, and it can travel great distances; speak normally, and it just bounces off the wall, mocking you with an echo of your own dumb-sounding voice. And yes, it really does sound that bad to everybody else. Nobody told you because they felt sorry for you.
"We paid the karaoke guy to turn down the monitors."
Fire Silence at People
Hey, don't you wish everybody would talk less and shut up more? Well, you should probably see a psychiatrist or something, because you're a horrible misanthrope. But if you'd rather save up some of those therapy dollars, you could by a speech jammer instead. It's a simple device that uses the sound of the speaker's own voice against them.
"So last night on Real Housewives ... oh god, do I always sound this pointless?"
We rely pretty heavily on our ability to hear ourselves talking in order to string a fluid sentence together. If what's coming out of our mouths sounds garbled, then our brains get confused and make us pause to figure out if we're suffering from a stroke or have become displaced in time somehow. The speech jammer works by recording the voice of the person you're aiming it at, and then playing it back to them with a very slight delay. Sure, you can try to power through it, but you'll sound like Ozzy Osbourne having an orgasm on a Tilt-A-Whirl. It's not like having someone try to talk over you, which our brains can actually deal with pretty well -- it's your own words that are thwarting you. Somebody basically weaponized a shitty Skype call.
"This is where those sign language lessons pay off."
For more ways to bend science to your will, check out 6 Badass Tricks You Can (But Shouldn't) Do With Electricity and 7 Man-Made Substances that Laugh in the Face of Physics.
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