Education Program

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From quantum physics to gravitation, from the micro to the macro scale, waves are pervasive in the physical world. A deep knowledge of the behavior of waves is not only fundamental to the physical sciences, but is also necessary for understanding diverse concepts in many fields such as chemistry, neurobiology, or geology, electronic and structural engineering. Moreover, understanding waves is a key element of understanding signal processing and is thus an important component of career preparedness for the information and communications technology (ICT) workplace and the entertainment industry. Listening to Waves seeks to build a connection between a physical phenomenon that is ubiquitous in our everyday lives (sound), the physics behind this phenomenon (waves), and applications of this knowledge that might be conducive to careers in STEM.


The classes will be primarily taught by computational neurobiologist Dr. Victor Minces and by cognitive scientist and ethnomusicologist Dr. Alexander Khalil. Through participation in this program students will learn the hidden and ubiquitous world of waves as they make and analyze musical sound. To accomplish this they will create waves and vibrations in physical objects (building their own unconventional instruments), use computers to analyze their waveforms and acoustic properties, and explore how sound is propagated through the environment and represented in the brain. In addition to the activities carried out with the instructors, we will engage adult volunteers from academia and industry who specialize in extended use of wave theory to explain the role of waves in their respective fields, thereby emphasizing the linkage between STEM domains. This will further promote STEM and ICT career awareness using waves, a subject the students already have experience with, as a common denominator. The lesson plan (see below) is designed as a series of experimental activities that stimulate critical thinking to integrate creativity with signal analysis technology. At the end of this program the participants will create experimental musical instruments that will be presented as installations in a public art-science-show. In this way the understanding of waves through sound will extend beyond the participants to their broader communities.


The learning goal is for students to understand what sound is, how objects vibrate, and how sound is propagated in space. We intend for students to develop intuitive notions of frequency decompositions (Fourier transforms). By the end of this program the participants should be able to connect a sound they hear, the characteristics of the object that created it, its waveform, and its spectrogram; and they should understand that the wave knowledge they acquired applies to various domains other than sound.


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