Physics of Sound Fall 2018 Fall Projects


This fall, I taught a revised physics of sound course. The revision was due to changes to Wheaton’s core curriculum program. The course expanded from 2 to 4 credit hours. It also took on new content, since it has both a Science Practice and an Advanced Integrative Seminar tag.

For the first half of the course, the students engaged with physics of sound content in a standards based grading manner. Then, at mid-term we switched to project and seminar mode. The students devised projects and revised them twice. We tried as hard as possible to maintain a true lab-like environment, with lab meetings and everything. The students also read primary sources such as On the Sensations of Tone by Hermann von Helmholtz and Sensation and Perception in the History of Experimental Psychology by Edward Boring, as well as newer texts on psychoacoustics, which fostered discussions on how humans hear. (We found some really interesting coverage of this by Aristotle, too!)

Below are pictures of the student projects. In years past, students in my two credit hour physics of music course made projects as well, but the longer term allowed us to have more time to design, test, and refine the instruments. The students also were able to make use of the very excellent engineering lab at Wheaton.

It is interesting to me how sometimes a course will take on themes that I don’t plan for. From these projects, I believe the students and I all gained a greater appreciation for the role of resonance to make sounds louder and the challenges with the choice of materials that will enhance resonance while being easy to work with and affordable. The hardware store is a natural place for students to first look for materials, but that largely restricts them to materials like PVC. When I teach the course again next fall, we’ll focus initial design on identifying and selecting materials that will enhance resonance.


Semester start up checklist

Semester start up checklist

I want to formalize a start up checklist that I will aim to use at the start of each semester. My goal is to reduce the amount of time I spend wondering what to do next, to make clear to myself what depends upon others (frankly, so I can bug them to make things happen!), and to make my semester start up more efficient but understanding what tasks I can batch together. (Right now, for example, I am running some code on a cluster and waiting for a revised dataset to come my way, so writing this blog post and thinking about my checklist is a good use of my time.)

As a physics professor at a small teaching-focused institution, with no lab staff (yet - we have a job opening for this!), I find that I have to take on a lot of tasks that are not usually done by faculty at larger institutions. For a long time I have felt like much of what is published online about being a professor ignores this level of work needed for being a physics professor - so I'm sharing here in case my list helps others and so others can chime in with suggestions.

Here's my list so far.