Tag Archive: David M. Sykes

Research during COVID: Biologist studies bird behavior and noise

Photo credit: Tina Nord from Pexels

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

I wondered who was taking advantage of this pandemic-induced quiet to do research on how nature reacts? Sure enough, this young researcher at the College of William and Mary in Virginia is conducting a well-controlled study of the nesting and reproductive behavior of bluebirds–with and without the influence of traffic noise.

Fascinating experimental design. If you’ve heard of other studies, please let us know!

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

“In Pursuit of Silence” is streaming for free!

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Transcendental Media, the producer of “In Pursuit of Silence,” is making the film available as a gift to the public during the global pandemic. This is an extraordinary film and now you can watch it at home for free!

Transcedental Media, writes:

“In Pursuit of Silence” speaks directly to what many of us are going through right now during these challenging times as we are confronted with a quieter way of life, free from the noise of the outside world, and more aligned to our natural rhythms. Therefore we have decided to stream In Pursuit of Silence worldwide for free during this global COVID-19 crisis as a gift to help each of us embrace what this unprecedented season offers. Watch + re-watch + share, thank you!

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

The future of work is not in noisy offices, NY Times survey says

Photo credit: Rum Bucolic Ape licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The future of work is not in cacophonous offices, a New York Times survey says. Pandemic-related working from home has accelerated a pivotal, even historic, change: people do not want to go back to their old noisy, politically-charged, distracting, disease-spreading offices. Many–60% according to the New York Times survey–say they’d rather continue to work from home as much as possible.

Could this be the next big driver of “knowledge-worker productivity,” i.e., no commuting, no irrelevant distractions, no pointless meetings in airless conference rooms
with management bringing in the boxes of donuts as a concession? If management buys into this change, hooray!

The whole open plan office fad has really been driven by two things: bean-counters trying to reduce the fixed costs of providing workspace for knowledge workers, while simultaneously satisfying the perceived need by managers enjoy seeing and “counting heads” of everyone under their control by simply looking across the open office floor. There’s been plenty of talk for decades about the advantages of “teaming,” “collaboration,” “sharing,” “cooperation,” and “camaraderie.”

But the bottom line has really been about…the bottom line. Open plan offices save money by spending less on both fixed assets (buildings) and peoples’ needs for space where they can really focus and concentrate, and giving them instead a “hotel-style” chair amidst many others at picnic-style tables and shared kitchens with fully stocked refrigerators so they never need to leave.

Things are changing! Now what will corporations do with all of that empty office space?

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Call for papers: Science journal looks at pandemic’s silence

This photograph is in the public domain

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Researchers in many fields are staring at a profound, world-wide “natural experiment” in enforced quiet that affects every living thing. So we’ve been wondering for weeks now: who’s actually studying this? Turns out people in seismology, earth sciences, and geology were the first to notice their instruments were picking up interesting things. But what about biologists? What about medical and public health researchers? What about acoustical scientists? What an opportunity to learn for all of them!

The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, JASA, published monthly since 1928 by the American Institute of Physics, has now issued a
call for papers about acoustical phenomena and their effects during this “quiet period.”

This is very exciting, because natural experiments are a rare gift for researchers. There were actually two prior—though short-lived—quiet periods during the last two decades: in 2001 for a brief period after the September 11 terrorist attacks, when most transportation shut down, and in 2008, when the global “financial pandemic” briefly shuttered financial markets and much of the world economy. A few very interesting studies on noise effects (for instance on whales—we reported on that work) occurred by chance during the 9/11 aftermath. But there was no time to plan and execute careful studies, so both opportunities were largely missed.

This time is different. Let’s hope the editors of JASA find that lots of researchers are digging into this. Those who are keenly interested in the effects of noise and sound on life here on earth hope much will be gleaned from this rare occasion—the first time since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution 200 years ago that we’ve been thrust back in time and can see what “natural quiet” sounds like and how it affects all of us.

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Researchers find whales enjoying pandemic quiet

Photo credit: Silvana Palacios from Pexels

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

While some humans are complaining about the enforced, stay-at-home quiet we’re living through now, biologists are embracing this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to research the impacts on other mammals, in particular, marine mammals.

I think it’s wonderful that scientists are using this window in time to compare how other species are doing while we’re locked indoors. Turns out, the researchers say, many animals are doing just fine!

This article in the New York Times provides glimpses into the “re-wilding” of cities around the globe as other species emerge to take over the world we’ve temporarily abandoned. And other videos actually prompt a sense of hope that the planet can heal itself if we’ll just give it a chance.

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Takeways from a silent pandemic

Photo credit: Hakan Tahmaz from Pexels

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coaliton

The Quiet Coalition co-founder Arline Bronzaft, PhD, was interviewed by Newsday a few days ago. The long-time researcher and noise activist known for her work on noise and its impact on children’s education that began 50 years ago hopes humans around the world will learn a big lesson from this locked-down quiet period.

We all need to listen to nature! The rest of nature—the nonhuman parts—have been trying to tell us something for a long time and we just haven’t been able to hear it: when the noise stops, so does much of the air pollution we accepted as “normal.” The sky is bluer now, the air is breathable and sweeter, and we can hear birds singing—all because the dirty industrial processes that generate most of the noise are at a standstill.

Once this is over, can we hang onto some of those benefits? Is there a way to seize this moment to figure out how to lead quieter, less stressful, less polluting lives?

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Yet another Earth Day has passed, but marked by silence and solitude

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

I have mixed emotions about Earth Day every year, and this year was similar–except it was quieter since each of us marked the 50th Earth Day in pandemic-induced solitude and isolation. But this year is different, too.  We have been been thrust back two centuries to the astonishingly quiet, unpolluted time before the industrial age.

Amidst this pandemically induced silence, I continue to be exasperated that even now, the environmental movement ignores industrial noise pollution. Why is it that environmentalists avoid acknowledging two early successes of the environmental movement: the U.S. Noise Control Act (1972) and the U.S. Quiet Communities Act (1978)? It is exasperating that environmental leaders, year after year after year, avoid the environmental noise pollution issue as if they are somehow embarrassed by it.

Environmentalists simply fail to grasp two obvious facts:

1. Noise is a significant public health problem all by itself as clearly proven by abundant research.

2. Industrial noise—including jet engines, power plants, railway and roadway traffic noise, construction and landscape maintenance noise and even wind turbine noise are all sentinels, like “canaries in coal mines,” warning us all of dangerous industrial pollution in the air we breathe and the water we drink.

Why has no one ever been able to successfully make this case to environmentalists?

How can we make it now? Might they listen this time, now that we’ve all had our ears and eyes opened by the silence of COVID-19?

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Popular Mechanics reviews quiet, electric mowers

Photo credit: MonikaP from Pixabay

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Heres’ some good news: Popular Mechanics magazine has published a review of quieter, battery-powered electric lawn mowers. The bad news is they didn’t measure their noise levels! How bizarre is that? Consumer Reports also tests lawn maintenance equipment, so you may want to check there too.

In the EU, manufacturers are required to test the noise levels of over 50 classes of products, including household appliances and construction equipment. So if you’re concerned about noise levels, look for European-made equipment because the manufacturers can tell you exactly how loud their products are–they’re required to do this following standardized procedures.

The difference in the american and European approaces are discussed in the 2011 report from the National Academy of Engineering, “Technology for a Quieter America. TLDR: The Europeans have a big head start on us.

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

UK research shows trees help quiet your neighborhood

Photo credit: Markus Spiske from Pexels

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Ever wonder if trees actually help create quiet neighborhoods? Lots of people assume that if they plant a hedge or a row of shrubs that will help control noise. Professional noise control experts usually say, “no that doesn’t work.” But the UK’s BBC reported recently on some research showing that trees—particularly larches and conifers—actually help screen out noise.

The researchers tested 76 samples from 13 different tree species. Co-author Jian Kang, University College London, said that “[b]eside emphasising the effects of vision and shade, urban greening should be considered as well to achieve noise reduction during propagation.”

Here’s the catch–it’s not the trees’ leaves that are performing that service, it’s their bark. In other words, the noise they help control is actually noise traveling horizontally, like road traffic noise. They won’t do much at all for aircraft noise.

Since it’s the trees’ bark that’s performing the service, trees need to be planted pretty closely together to offer much real shielding from noise. Of course, trees also provide other kinds of relief: they screen out visual distractions like passing vehicles, nosy neighbors, etc., and they provide shade from hot sun in the summertime. So if what you really want is to have a quiet, pleasant front or back yard, do two things: put up a solid wall to stop the noise and other intrusions–wooden boards fitted tightly together will do–then put a row of trees or a hedge between you and the fence.

I lived for three and a half decades in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and even though it’s home to two universities, Harvard and MIT, it’s an intense urban environment with
an incredible amount of urban noise. I have had an eight-foot-high board fence on all sides of a relatively small property (houses in Cambridge are spaced pretty closely together).
That wall provided privacy, security, and a measure of solitude, even when we could hear noise on the other side of it.

One subsequently famous architect, Philip Johnson, built himself a simple, private house when he was a grad student in 1940 (he had a lot of money and it was his thesis project). He started by building a 10 foot high wall right at the property line that ran all the way around the property. Into the wall he inserted two tightly fitted, locking, windowless doors one at the front, one at the side. Then inside the fenced enclosure, he divided the whole lot into a flat-roofed indoor area and an open garden separating them with a glass wall that enabled wide open views of the garden from any place inside the house.

Simple, elegant, actually quite remarkable. That’s how you achieve solitude and privacy in an urban area! The house still stands today. In other words, wooden boards work even better than trees if you really want to screen out the noise and bustle of the city! Put in some trees for shade and green space and you’re done!

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

There is value in the sudden quiet

MIT’s Infinite Corridor — Photo credit: Kunal Mukherjee licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

“With more quiet time, more privacy, more stillness, we have an opportunity to think about who we are, as individuals and as a society,” writes Alan Lightman.  Lightman is a physicist at MIT—easily one of the most frenetic, mentally stimulating environments on planet earth. You feel the vibration when you step into the huge domed entry and stroll down the “infinite corridor.” So much energy!

But this physicist relishes the sudden quiet of a pandemic to wonder about how quiet and isolation can — and often have — stimulated innovation. More than that, they stimulate reflection and insight. The opposite of what Henry David Thoreau deplored: our desperate pace.

If you’re looking for some peace amidst the sudden quiet and enforced social isolation, this essay is a good place to start!

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.