• Add to new collection

Nigel wants to break the sound barrier – and of course, he breaks a few other things along the way. He also uses some clever models – one of which involves 150 school students with flags – to introduce the fundamentals of sound.

Sound is just energy on a journey.

Nigel Latta

Nigel Latta Blows Stuff Up
Watch Series 1/Episode 7: Sound

Science ideas and concepts in Episode 7: Sound

In between the drama and humour, Nigel introduces a number of important science concepts. This episode explores:

  • sound as energy
  • sound as waves
  • sound travels by particles bumping into each other as they vibrate
  • sound travels at different speeds through different substances
  • words often have different meanings in a science context (nature of science).

Resources on the Science Learning Hub provide an in-depth – and safer – means to further explore these concepts.

Fundamentals of sound

Nigel begins the show with the statement, “Sound is one of those weird everyday things that we all know about but no one really understands.”

Sound is made up of waves generated when something vibrates. In sound waves, energy is transferred as particles move outwards, bumping into each other. Sound has both volume and pitch, which influence the size and shape of sound waves. Nigel demonstrates differences in sound waves by sprinkling salt onto a speaker.

Learn more about the fundamentals of sound

The following articles provide information about the fundamental physics of sound.

Measuring sound
Waves as energy transfer
What is energy?

Activity ideas

These activities explore sound as waves. They are suitable for mid primary level and above.
Modelling waves with slinkies
Sound detectives
Sound on an oscilloscope

Sound on the move

Nigel uses 150 school students spread along a 600 m line to model the speed of sound. Nigel makes a noise and watches as students raise flags to indicate they hear the sound. The sound made by crashing symbols does not travel far as it does not have enough energy. Nigel uses a higher-energy air horn, and the sound wave takes 1.75 seconds to travel 600 m – demonstrating the speed of sound is 343 m/s (1225 km/h).

To ‘break’ the speed of sound, an object must travel faster than 1225 km/h. This creates a shockwave that generates sound energy. We hear it as the crack of a whip, a sonic boom or even thunder.

Learn more about sound on the move

Sound moves through gases (like air), liquids and even solids. Read about sound as it travels in the air or in the water.

Sound on the move
Studying sound under water
New Zealand reef noise

How sound travels - animated video

Activity ideas

Students make electronic devices then use them to listen to sound under water. The activities are suitable for upper primary level and above.
Sounds in the school pool
Make and use a hydrophone

Science words versus everyday words

Nigel sets out to break the sound barrier and break a wine glass with a human voice. Andrea Munro breaks the wine glass with her powerful singing voice, but does Nigel really ‘break’ the sound barrier with a bullet? Technically, the bullet catches up and moves through a band of sound waves. It creates a noise, but nothing actually gets broken.

Phrases like ‘breaking the sound barrier’ are commonly used to explain complex science concepts. Adults may understand that such phrases are descriptive rather than accurate, but students may need to be explicitly taught that everyday words or phrases can have totally different meanings in science.

Nature of science

Scientists need scientific vocabulary to communicate effectively. Scientific language helps shape ideas and provides the means for constructing scientific understandings and explanations.

Communicating in science

These resources provide information about the language of science and ways to help build shared scientific vocabularies in the classroom.

The ‘Communicating in science’ strand
Adapting SLH activities: focusing on scientific language
Thinking and talking like scientists

Activity idea

Use SMS text language to explain the similarities between SMS and the specialised vocabulary and numeric and symbolic conventions of science communication. It is suitable for mid primary level and above
Scrambled sentence

Useful links

Visit the How Stuff Works website to learn what causes a sonic boom.

Use literacy resources from Connected to support science understanding about sound.
Amazing sound Connected Number 2 1998
Sounds in space Connected Number 2 1998
Making a sound Connected Number 2 1998

Learn more about Connected.


    Published 5 June 2015 Referencing Hub articles