Sound is everywhere. It can travel through solids, liquids, and gases, but it does so at different speeds. It can rustle through trees at 770 MPH (miles per hour), echo through the ocean at 3,270 MPH, and resonate through solid rock at 8,600 MPH.
Sound is made by things vibrating back and forth, whether it’s a guitar string, drum head, or clarinet. The back and forth motion of an object (like the drum head) creates a sound wave in the air that looks a lot like a ripple in a pond after you throw a rock in. It radiates outward, vibrating it’s neighboring air molecules until they are moving around, too. This chain reaction keeps happening until it reaches your ears, where your “sound detectors” pick up the vibration and works with your brain to turn it into sound.
You can illustrate this principle using a guitar string – when you pluck the string, your ears pick up a sound. If you have extra rubber bands, wrap them around an open shoebox to make a shoebox guitar. You can also cut a hole in the lid (image left) and use wooden pencils to lift the rubber band off the surface of the shoebox.
- index card
- rubber band
- 3′ string
- small piece of craft foam sheet OR a second index card
- hot glue and glue sticks
Why is this happening? When you sling the hornet around, wind zips over the rubber band and causes it to vibrate like a guitar string… and the sound is focused (slightly) by the card. The card really helps keep the contraption at the correct angle to the wind so it continues to make the sound.
Troubleshooting: Most kids forget to put on the rubber band, as they get so excited about finishing this project that they grab the string and start slinging it around… and wonder why it’s so silent! Make sure they have a fat enough rubber band (about 3.5” x ¼ “ – or larger) or they won’t get a sound.
Variations include: multiple rubber bands, different sizes of rubber bands, and trying it without the index card attached. The Buzzing Hornet works because air zips past the rubber band, making it vibrate, and the sound gets amplified just a bit by the index card.
- What effect does changing the length of the string have on the pitch?
- What vibrates in this experiment to create sound?
- Why do we use an index card?