Engineering Innovation Podcast and Radio Series

Re-creating the Sounds of (This) Summer

PostedMay 9, 2004

Download File (mp3)

Cicadas are an acoustical engineering marvel.  The relatively small creatures belt out a disproportionately loud mating song.  In fact, researchers are puzzled by why they don't deafen themselves.  But scientists think they know how the noise is produced.  Rapidly flexing muscles pull the cicada's unique buckling ribs, which then constantly distort drum-like membranes on its sides.  The vibration gets amplified in its belly and the sound sent out through its ear drums.  Stanford engineer and music researcher Tamara Smyth has now re-created this process in a brand new musical instrument.  Smyth says bug muscles are replaced by human fingers playing aluminum "ribs" that control vibrations unlike any other instrument.  With the National Academy of Engineering, Randy Atkins, WTOP Radio.