Science History

History of Acoustics

The fundamentals and the first six overtones of a vibrating string studied by Pythagoras

If you love music, playing instruments, or going to concerts, then you might be one of the many people that is curious as to how sound is produced. Listening to audio is tricky since it varies from a lot of factors, such as volume, pitch, bass, and many more. All of these features affect the quality of sound we hear, and through these, we can make changes to it depending on the situation.

Moreover, the sound is a lot more complicated than it seems, and it covers various properties, which make up its entirety. Because of this rather complex characteristics of sound, scientists dedicate a study to further understand its principles. Similar to other natural phenomena, the study of sound branches out from science to cover a broader range of topics. This more extensive learning of sound is called acoustics, which describes its fundamental components.

In this article, we are going to look into the definition of acoustics, as well as its history.

What is Acoustics?

We may be aware of the term acoustics in the musical sense. However, it is also defined as the study of sound, particularly the mechanical waves in gases, liquids, and solids. It consists of various topics, such as vibrations, sound, ultrasound, and infrared, all having a standard feature. It focuses on the production of sound, transmission, and effects. Furthermore, it also covers the interaction of sound with its surroundings.

The term acoustics is derived from the Greek word ‘akoustikos,’ which means ‘of or for hearing, ready to hear.’ It also came from the word ‘akoustos,’ which means heard or audible.’Like other branches of science, we don’t simply call a person who studies sound as scientists; instead, we call them acousticians or acoustical engineers in some cases.

What is the origin of acoustics?

Principles of architectural acoustics in ancient times

We can trace back the earliest study of sound to the 6th century BC. Like any other branch of science, acoustics started to develop from a product of interest when the Greek philosopher Pythagoras carefully observed the difference between various combinations of musical sounds. His main point of interest was to gain knowledge as to why some of these combinations seemed more beautiful than others.

Interestingly, he made his conclusion using keen observations using the harmonic overtone series of a string. He was responsible for the observation of vibrating strings and relating them to numerical ratios, which define their sound.

Another Greek philosopher that made a significant impact in the study of sound was Aristotle, wherein he introduced the concept of compressions and rarefactions of air. These factors are present in sound and fall upon and strikes the air next to it, closely resembling the behavior of wave motion.

Years later, acoustics reached a new stage of development, wherein its principles were utilized in the creation of structures. This concept was the work of the Roman architect and engineer Vitruvius who wrote a treatise on the acoustic properties of theaters. This treatise was heavily used in ancient buildings, which started the architectural acoustics.

Fast-forward to the 16th century when the development of acoustics proliferated. During this time, one of the great scientist, Galileo Galilei, and Marin Mersenne, made the entirety of the Laws of Vibrating Strings. The works of Galileo made a significant impact in the field of acoustics, and it was when the successful measurement of the speed of sound was made.

During the 19th century, mathematical acoustics started to rise, and among the scientists devoted to its development were the German physicist Helmholtz and the English scientist Lord Rayleigh. Both of them made a remarkable contributionto the advancement of physics, mainly in acoustics.  Helmholtz was responsible for consolidating the field of physiological acoustics. At the same time, Rayleigh recreated the ancient knowledge of sound and combined it with his study, resulting in his monumental work The Theory of Sound.

Throughout the years, several other scientists contributed to the development of acoustics until it reached the stage that it is today. Modern acoustics proves to be a compilation of countless works from various physicists devoted to reaching scientific advances. Today, different scientists continue to study and contribute to more advanced knowledge of science, which we would pass on to future generations.

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