Bang! Boom! Crash! BYU presents ‘Sounds to Astound’

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When planning Sounds to Astound, students from BYU’s Physics Department wanted to create an outreach program that would both educate and entertain — and so the founding board members incorporated music and pyrotechnics.

Sounds to Astound, which got its start in 2010, is an acoustical outreach program  designed by members of the BYU student chapter of the Acoustical Society of America to get audiences excited about acoustics, the role of sound in everyday life and science education in general. In any one of the performances — which are free to the public and take place multiple times a semester — audiences can witness dancing fire, watch sound waves travel through a ripple tank, measure the volume of an exploding balloon and hear an aluminum rod sing.

Three Sounds to Astound presentations are scheduled this semester. The first will take place next Monday at 6 p.m. in C215 Eyring Science Center, and two others are planned on Nov. 18. Admission is free, but attendance is capped at 120 individuals, so seats must be reserved in advance at acoustics.byu.edu/outreach.

Nielsen attributed the program’s success to the efforts of the undergraduate student board that designs and presents each of the demonstrations. According to Kent Gee, the physics professor who oversees Sounds to Astound, acoustics is such a wide-ranging, interdisciplinary field that the program is able to find a demonstration to appeal to nearly everybody.

“We present acoustical concepts in a fun way — we blow things up, and bring in instruments and slinkies,” Gee said.”There’s a lot that goes on in the show, and it usually keeps audiences pretty entertained.”

Each performance typically draws 80 to 85 spectators — 75 seats are already reserved for this year’s first performance — making Sounds to Astound one of the largest outreach programs sponsored by the Acoustical Society of America, according to Traci Nielsen, an adjunct professor assisting with the performance.

“They’re really excited about acoustics, and they’re very good at conveying that enthusiasm to the public,” she said.

Benjamin Christensen, a senior from Evergreen, Colo., majoring in applied physics and one of the students who helped design the program when it began a year and a half ago, said the program’s founders created Sounds to Astound with education in mind.

“We hope to bring science to kids,” Christensen said. “We try to educate kids about how science can be fun — that it’s not just a boring thing you do in school.”

But Christensen added that Sounds to Astound is popular with college students as well.

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