May 10, 2012

Discoveries On The Science Of Sound At Acoustics Meeting

Hearing health, animal communication, volcanic noise, and more

The latest news and discoveries from the science of sound will be featured at Acoustics 2012 Hong Kong, May 13-18, a joint meeting of the Acoustical Society of America (ASA), Acoustical Society of China, Western Pacific Acoustics Conference, and the Hong Kong Institute of Acoustics. Experts in acoustics will present research spanning a diverse array of disciplines, including medicine, music, speech communication, noise, and marine ecology.

Lay-language versions of particularly interesting presentations are available at the ASA's Worldwide Press Room (

The following summaries link to full news releases and highlight a few of the meeting's many noteworthy talks.

Highlights, Monday, May 14

Cocktail Party Acoustics: Researchers study how humans perceive sound in noisy and complex environments: For the ears, a cocktail party presents a chaotic scene: glasses clink, voices buzz, light piano music may waft down from the stage. A group of researchers at The John Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md., is trying to understand how the brain makes sense of such complex auditory environments. The team is testing how humans track sound patterns over time, and under what circumstances the brain registers that the pattern has been broken. Read full news release here: [The presentation 1aPP5, "Auditory scene analysis: It's all about expectations!" is in the morning session of Monday, May 14. Abstract:]

The Risk of Listening to Amplified Music: Listening to amplified music for less than 1.5 hours produces measurable changes in hearing ability that may place listeners at risk of noise-induced hearing loss, new research shows. While further research is needed to firmly establish this risk, the investigation is significant because it provides the first acoustical data for a new method to assess the potential harm from a widespread cultural behavior: "leisure listening" to amplified music, whether in live environments or through headphones. Read full news release here: [Presentation 1pNSb3, "Changes in oto-acoustic emissions after exposure to live music," is in the afternoon session on Monday, May 14. Abstract:]

Volcanoes Sound-off on the Lifecycles of Eruptions: From low rumblings to concussive blasts, volcanoes emit a broad spectrum of sonic energy. In the case of basaltic eruptions, most of that acoustical energy in the infrasound range, at frequencies below the range of human hearing. A new study reveals that this low-frequency sound can give scientists an enhanced understanding of the behavior of volcanoes and a tool to monitor the lifecycles of their eruptions. Read full news release here: [Presentation 1pNSa12, "Surveying the infrasonic noise on a basaltic volcano to understand the eruptive dynamics," is in the afternoon session on Monday, May 14. Abstract:]

Highlights, Tuesday, May 15

Acoustic Diode, Providing One-way Transmission of Sound, Promises to Improve Ultrasound Imaging: An acoustic diode, enabling the one-way transmission of sound waves, could dramatically improve the quality of medical ultrasound imaging and lead to better sound dampening materials. Such a device has now been created by researchers at China's Nanjing University. Read full news release here: [The presentation 2aEA4, "Acoustic Diode," is in the morning session of Tuesday, May 15. Abstract:]

Are Gestures a Fundamental Part of Language?: People of all ages and cultures gesture while speaking — some much more noticeably than others. But is gesturing uniquely tied to speech, or is it, rather, processed by the brain like any other manual action? A U.S.-Netherlands research collaboration delving into this tie discovered that actual actions on objects, such as physically stirring a spoon in a cup, have less of an impact on the brain's understanding of speech than simply gesturing as if stirring a spoon in a cup. Read full news release here: [Presentation 2aSC15, "The communicative influence of gestures and action during speech comprehension: gestures have the upper hand," is in the morning session on Tuesday, May 15. Abstract:]

'Dolphin Speaker' to Enhance Study of Dolphin Vocalizations and Acoustics: Dolphins rely on the combination of a variety of vocalizations and vastly better acoustic abilities than humans to communicate with each other or to detect their surroundings and prey in the dark sea. To gain new insights into how dolphins communicate, researchers in Japan created an extremely broadband "dolphin speaker" prototype capable of projecting dolphins' communication sounds, whistles, burst-pulse sounds, as well as detection sounds such as echolocation clicks. Read full release here: [Presentation 2aAO5, "Evaluation of playback sounds by a newly developed dolphin-speaker," is in the morning session on Tuesday, May 15. Abstract:]

Highlights, Wednesday, May 16

Bats, Whales, and Bio-sonar: New findings about whales' foraging behavior reveal surprising evolutionary convergence: Though they evolved separately over millions of years in different worlds of darkness, bats and toothed whales use surprisingly similar acoustic behavior to locate, track, and capture prey using echolocation. Now a team of Danish researchers has shown that the acoustic behavior of these two types of animals while hunting is eerily similar as well. The findings were made possible by a new type of whale tag that allows scientists, for the first time, to track whales' foraging behavior in the wild. Read full release here: [Presentation 3aAB5, "Evolutionary convergence and divergence in bat and toothed whale biosonars," is in the morning session on Wednesday, May 16. Abstract:]

Protecting Soundscapes in U.S. National Parks: Lessons Learned: National parks are prized for their visual splendor, but the sounds of nature are also part of that rich experience. Researchers and protected area managers from Colorado State University (CSU), the National Park Service (NPS), and the Vermont-based consulting company Resource Systems Group are working together to help ensure that the sounds in U.S. national parks remain as natural as possible, for the benefit of both visitors and native wildlife. Read full release here: [Presentation 3aNSb2, "Protecting soundscapes in U.S. National Parks: lessons learned and tools developed," is in the morning session on Wednesday, May 16. Abstract:

Highlights, Thursday, May 17

Built-in Ear Plugs: Whales may turn down their hearing sensitivity when warned of an impending loud noise: Toothed whales navigate through sometimes dark and murky waters by emitting clicks and then interpreting the pattern of sound that bounces back. The animals' hearing can pick up faint echoes, but that sensitivity can be a liability around loud noises. Now researchers have discovered that whales may protect their ears by lowering their hearing sensitivity when warned of an imminent loud sound. Read full release here: [Presentation 4aAB3, "Immediate changes in whale hearing sensitivity," is in the morning session on Thursday, May 17. Abstract:]

Highlights, Friday, May 18

Support for Theory that 'Blindness' May Rapidly Enhance Other Senses: Can blindness or other forms of visual deprivation really enhance our other senses such as hearing or touch? While this theory is widely regarded as being true, there are still many questions about the science behind it. New findings from a Canadian research team investigating this link suggest that not only is there a real connection, but that it's important to gain a better understanding of the underlying mechanisms that can quickly trigger such sensory changes. Read full release here: [Presentation 5aPP10, "Visual deprivation improves auditory scene analysis," is in the morning session on Friday, May 18. Abstract:]

Scientists Tuning-in to How You Tune-out Noise: Although we have little awareness that we are doing it, we spend most of our lives filtering out many of the sounds that permeate our lives and acutely focusing on others — a phenomenon known as auditory selective attention. In research that could someday lead to the development of improved devices allowing users to control things like wheelchairs through thought alone, hearing scientists at the University of Washington (UW) are attempting to tease apart the process. Read full release here: [Presentation 5aPP4, "What is so hard about selectively attending?" is in the morning session on Friday, May 18. Abstract:]


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