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The Sounds of Music

09/28/2003 2:00 PM 6-120
Walter Lewin, Professor of Physics;

Description: Have you ever wondered about the annoying hum your car makes at a certain speed on a particular stretch of highway? Or why a flute's notes are higher than a trombone's? Walter Lewin uses rubber hose, wooden boxes with holes, metal plates and an assortment of other home-made instruments to demonstrate how objects produce sound. It all boils down to how something vibrates -- pushing air out in all directions.

Lewin illustrates the shape of sounds, taking a rope tethered at one end, shaking it up and down at different speeds and producing specific wave shapes. These shapes are the rope's resonant frequencies, or harmonics. It's the same for a bowed violin, where the oscillations of the strings generate a set of harmonics, producing the notes we hear -- the faster the oscillations, the higher the tones. Lewin invites children from the audience to produce sounds with their musical instruments, and shows the amplitude and frequency of the tones. Later he demonstrates destructive resonances: video of a bridge that twists so violently that it collapses, and then, live in the laboratory, the shattering of a wine glass with progressively louder and higher tones. In this event where physics meets performance art, Lewin provides surprises throughout.

About the Speaker(s): Walter H. G. Lewin is well-known at MIT for his lectures on both Newtonian mechanics and electricity and magnetism. Videos of his lectures can be viewed on the web via the Open CourseWare and Pivot links below. Lewin received his Ph.D. in Nuclear Physics in 1965 at the Technical University of Delft, The Netherlands, and has been a member of the MIT Physics faculty since 1966. During his MIT career, Lewin's investigations in astrophysics have included satellite and high-altitude balloon X-ray observations, world-wide coordinated observations of optical and X-ray bursts, and international collaborations observing X-ray sources. In addition, Lewin has collaborated over the years with various artists on sky art events. From 1998 to 2000, Lewin worked with MIT's Center for Advanced Educational Services on creating the Physics Interactive Video Tutor project -- video help sessions for freshman physics students.

Host(s): Office of the Provost, MIT Museum

Tape #: T17654.

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MIT World — special events and lectures

MIT World — special events and lectures

Category: Events | Updated over 2 years ago

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