The Flame Challenge: What is Sound?

Winning Video Entry

Nicholas Weckesser (Nick Lucid)
College Lecturer (Physics)
Michigan, USA

The best way to teach kids is to find your inner child. - Nick Weckesser

About Nick

Nick has been into astronomy since he was a little kid. Learning about the stars and planets was always exciting, but back then his whole family thought he should go into computer science, so his high school years were mostly focused on computers and coding. In college, he rediscovered his passion for the physical sciences and earned a BS and MS in physics from Eastern Michigan University. It was during that master’s program that he realized he wanted to be an educator. He enjoyed being able to share his knowledge and help others learn. As a result, he has spent a decade teaching physics part-time at several colleges/universities in southeastern Michigan and the last 3 years hosting his own YouTube channel, The Science Asylum.

Watch the Winning Video

Winning Written Entry

Bruce Goldstein
Associate Professor Emeritus (Psychology)
Arizona, USA

Science is a mystery to many people, so it is important to be able to communicate it in a way that they will find accessible, and in a way that enables them to appreciate the important role that science plays in their lives. 
- Bruce Goldstein

About Bruce

Bruce is Associate Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the University of Pittsburgh and Adjunct Professor of Psychology at the University of Arizona. He received the Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award from the University of Pittsburgh for his classroom teaching and textbook writing. He received his PhD in experimental psychology from Brown University and was a postdoctoral fellow in the Biology Department at Harvard before joining the psychology department at Pitt. Bruce is the author of two widely used undergraduate textbooks - Sensation and Perception, 10th edition (Cengage, 2016) and Cognitive Psychology: Connecting Mind, Research and Everyday Experience, 4th edition (Cengage, 2015).

Read the Winning Answer

A drummer bangs on a bass drum. Sam, standing nearby, hears BOOM! How does banging on thed rum turn into the sound BOOM? Sounds are vibrations, and the drum-head’s back-and-forth vibrations create pressure waves in the air that set Sam’s eardrums, just inside his ears, into vibration. The magic of sound happens deeper inside Sam’s ears in a hollow tube-like structure called the inner ear or cochlea. Imagine that you’ve shrunk yourself so small that you can look into this tube. When you peek inside, you see thousands of tiny hairs lined up in rows. Suddenly, the drummer bangs the drum! You feel the vibrations, and then you see something spectacular – the hairs are moving back and forth in time with the vibrations, and every movement is creating electrical signals! These signals are sent down the auditory nerve towards the brain and a fraction of a second later, when they reach the hearing areas in the brain, Sam hears BOOM! What makes some vibrations create a drum’s low-pitched BOOM and others create a bird’s high-pitched tweet? Slow vibrations create low pitches and faster vibrations create high pitches, so the hairs vibrate more slowly for BOOM and faster for tweet. But sound is more than BOOM and tweet. You create sounds when talking with friends or playing music. Music is really amazing, because when the tiny hairs vibrate back and forth to music, electricity reaches the brain’s hearing areas, plus other brain areas that make you move and that make you feel emotions like happy or sad. So sounds are vibrations that make you hear, and might also make you feel like tapping your feet, dancing, crying, or even jumping for joy. Pretty amazing, what tiny hairs vibrating inside the ear can do!