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    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