Core Project

SOUND - Extension #1



This extension involves measurements of sound intensity. For this investigation you will need to build a Sound Level Meter. You will also need a sound source. The tone generator you built in the Core Project will serve quite well if you add a speaker.


Like many topics in physics, the relationship between the intensity of a sound wave and the distance from its source is subtle and potentially complicated. The models presented here reflect a number of simplifying assumptions including a point source, a uniform medium, and no dissipation of wave energy. As a result, this model is inaccurate in some real world situations. However, as a first approximation, it is quite useful and appropriate in a wide variety of circumstances.

The intensity of a sound wave diminishes as it moves away from its source. This is obvious from experience. You can reduce noise levels by walking away from the source. Analysis of the question yields a similar conclusion. When a sound wave leaves its source, its total energy is set. As the wave front spreads out, the energy associated with the wave must also spread out.

While the broad relationship is clear, the details are not so obvious. Does sound intensity decrease in a linear fashion where each additional increment of distance produces the same drop in intensity? Or is the intensity decrease with distance nonlinear? For instance, is there gradual decrease in intensity at first followed by a more rapid decline at greater distances?


In an open space,measure the sound intensity directly in front of a speaker at a variety of distances from that speaker. When you complete this section, you should have a table of distances and corresponding sound intensities. You may be able to establish a mathematical formual that models the relationship between sound intensity and distance from the source.


  1. Placement of your speaker
    For this experiment, "open space" means outside (that's why the equipment is battery-powered) or as large a room as possible. Within your "open space", place your apparatus in a position that minimizes the effect of reflected sounds and sounds produced by other experimenters. Remember, you are trying to measure the sound intensity produced directly by your speaker, not from other sources.

  2. Measuring distances
    You are responsible for designing a method for measuring the distance from the speaker to the microphone. Depending on the equipment available in your laboratory, this can be done in many ways.

  3. Measuring intensity
    Use the sound-level meter to measure the intensity of sound at each of the distances you have chosen. Your voltmeter will not show decibels (special sound intensity units), it will show plain volts. That's OK, because you do not need to compare readings with other experimeters who might be using different sound-level meters. The voltmeter reading at each distance is proportional to the sound intensity there. Record the voltage at each distance

  4. How many data points? over what distance?
    Your goal is to discover the functional relationship between distance and sound intensity for your speaker. Your result will be ambiguous if too few points are taken over a distance that is too small. You will be working too hard if too many points are taken over a distance that is too large. This issue confronts scientists every time they conduct an experiment. Try to develop a rational strategy for confronting this problem.

  5. Modeling
    Make a graph of values, using distance as the independant variable (horizontal axis), and intensity as the dependent variable.

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