Tag Archive: David M. Sykes

Can Acoustic metamaterials rescue your hearing?

Photo credit: Office of Naval Research licensed under CC BY 2.0

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

Boston University’s work on acoustic metamaterials is quite interesting, but it’s a long way from being available in stores if you’re concerned about hearing loss, as you should be.

Acoustic metamaterials are an exciting if little-known area of research and development that hold promise for much better, i.e., lighter, less bulky, ways to stop noise from destroying your hearing or disrupting your sleep or concentration.

The article caught my attention because I used to teach at BU, though I don’t know this research team. And I’ve also done some grant-funded work on other acoustic metamaterials in the research lab I co-founded at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. So I am very interested in this subject.

But I mainly want to say this: The most important work on noise control right now is going on at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, where leadership recognized two years ago that noise is, indeed, a serious public health hazard. That’s huge—because it brings noise out of the dark shadow it’s been hidden under at Environmental Protection Agency since 1981. The CDC’s recognition is what has triggered interest in research on a variety of solutions., and its interest should trigger funding for:

  1. Widespread work on reducing noise at the source (such as noise from airports, highways, railways, construction and \ maintenance equipment, household appliances, headphones, etc.), and
  2. Reducing noise at the receiver (such as noise-cancellation headphones or more effective, lighter, or less bulky ways to block sound from destroying your hearing).

We’ve already seen two pieces of national bi-partisan legislation pass without a fight: the 2017 bi-partisan Warren-Grassley OTC Hearing Aid Act, and the 2018 FAA Re-Authorization Act. And at the local level, a number of cities and towns have taken up the battle: Washington DC, New York City, Southampton, New York, S. Pasadena, and others.

In fact, it feels like the tide has turned on this issue after a 38-year hiatus and hearing loss is now beginning to be recognized as a serious public health hazard. But don’t wait for this BU group to commercialize their work on acoustic metamaterials because that could be decades away. Go and buy a good pair of ear plugs or a good pair of noise-cancelling headphones AND a good pair of over-the-ear “ear muffs” (they can be found at hunting or hardware stores). Then train your family members, even the youngest children, that hearing is precious and must be protected.

Sound is like the air you breathe: omnipresent, invisible, necessary, but also potentially hazardous. Nobody will protect you if you don’t protect yourself.

In addition to serving as vice chair of the The Quiet Coalition, David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: The Acoustics Research Council, American National Standards Institute Committee S12, Workgroup 44, The Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Working Group—a partner of the American Hospital Association. He is the lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0 (2012, Springer-Verlag), a contributor to the National Academy of Engineering report “Technology for a Quieter America,” and to the US-GSA guidance “Sound Matters”, and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics (LARA) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He recently retired from the board of directors of the American Tinnitus Association. A graduate of the University of California/Berkeley with graduate degrees from Cornell University, he is a frequent organizer of and speaker at professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.

NYC helicopter crash shows risks of Uber’s “urban air-taxi” fantasy

Photo credit: Beyond My Ken licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

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

Today, The New York Times reported on a helicopter crash atop a midtown Manhattan skyscraper that left one person dead. The copter exploded, presumably throwing debris onto the streets below, though there are no reports of injuries on the streets below. One hundred emergency workers were called out.

We’ve written about the enthusiastic visions promulgated by Uber, NASA and others, for vast fleets of small “inter-urban air taxis” that use vertical take-off and landing. My concern, of course, is the increase in noise implied—even if these “air taxis” are electrically propelled. But the accident reported today shows the significant risk of crashes and potentially lethal debris falling on people in the streets below.

Last October, the 36-member Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus celebrated a significant achievement: passage of the FAA Re-Authorization Act which included several important clauses concerning the national problem of aircraft/airport noise. The reason we wrote about the Uber/NASA’s “air taxi” fantasy was because we hoped this group of members of Congress would realize that the battle to reduce aircraft noise and other dangers has now expanded to include roof-top heliports in densely populated urban centers like Manhattan, from which this next generation of small, electric VTOL aircraft could be deployed sometime in the near future.

The Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus needs to get back to work on this problem before Uber’s fantasy becomes our reality!

In addition to serving as vice chair of the The Quiet Coalition, David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: The Acoustics Research Council, American National Standards Institute Committee S12, Workgroup 44, The Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Working Group—a partner of the American Hospital Association. He is the lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0 (2012, Springer-Verlag), a contributor to the National Academy of Engineering report “Technology for a Quieter America,” and to the US-GSA guidance “Sound Matters”, and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics (LARA) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He recently retired from the board of directors of the American Tinnitus Association. A graduate of the University of California/Berkeley with graduate degrees from Cornell University, he is a frequent organizer of and speaker at professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.

Want a quieter town? Urge local government to “Buy Quiet”

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

These two 5-minute videos from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spell out how business owners can reduce noise-induced hearing loss by creating “Buy Quiet” programs as a first step when purchasing or renting machinery or tools.  The Buy Quiet program “encourages companies to purchase or rent quieter machinery and tools to reduce worker noise exposure” when they first start up or when older machinery and tools are replaced. You can make your town or neighborhood quieter by getting your local government to encourage it’s own departments–as well as area businesses–to Buy Quiet.

Buy Quiet programs originated at NASA, where they were concerned about astronauts who, it turns out, were exposed to excessive and dangerous noise level when they were floating around in space.

But Buy Quiet gradually expanded to other federal agencies, for instance the National Park Service, eventually reaching the CDC, which realized that exposing the public to excessive noise levels from construction, traffic, airports, etc. was actually a dangerous public health problem. At that point, the CDC and other federal agencies began publishing the kind of public education materials linked above and much more.

It’s time for all of us to take the noise problem seriously. Remember, as our chairman Dr. Fink says, “if it sounds too loud, it IS too loud!”

In addition to serving as vice chair of the The Quiet Coalition, David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: The Acoustics Research Council, American National Standards Institute Committee S12, Workgroup 44, The Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Working Group—a partner of the American Hospital Association. He is the lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0 (2012, Springer-Verlag), a contributor to the National Academy of Engineering report “Technology for a Quieter America,” and to the US-GSA guidance “Sound Matters”, and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics (LARA) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He recently retired from the board of directors of the American Tinnitus Association. A graduate of the University of California/Berkeley with graduate degrees from Cornell University, he is a frequent organizer of and speaker at professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.

The cost of noise disruptions

Photo credit: Cadeau Maestro from Pexels

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

Katherine Martinko, Treehugger, writes about how “blocking out the noise of the world” can make us more productive and creative.

Do you remember the Microsoft study on productivity and the cost of noise disruptions? I certainly do. Microsoft and several other big tech companies convened a meeting several years ago to discuss how to measure the productivity of knowledge workers. All the experts were there, led by some people from MIT.

I remember because they awarded my partner and me a contract to do further research (our original work had been for Apple Computer) on this subject and we presented it at a Human Factors and Ergonomics Society conference later.

Here’s the point in a single quote from the above article:

After being interrupted, it takes about 25 minutes to get back to the task you were working on, according to a Microsoft study. It can take even longer to get to a ‘flow state,’ alternatively called ‘deep work.’ These terms refer to the concentrated frame of mind you’re in when immersed in a task and time just seems to fly. It’s also when you do your best work.

What more do we need to know? The relentless shift toward open landscape offices has been underway for decades—because it reduces the cost of corporate office space. Basically, take away walls and doors and even cubicles and you can reduce the space-per-person well below 200 sq ft., resulting in huge savings and greater “flexibility.” But in the end, many people now work in essentially raw, unfinished, factory-like spaces with concrete floors, temporary tables, and virtually no privacy—and that, we are told, is supposed to result in what they call “teamwork.”

We’ve written about the bane of open offices before, but the fact that Microsoft weighed in on the issue is significant. We agree with the author of the above piece that it’s important, if not essential, to find and hang onto your own “bliss station”—a place where distractions are removed and you’re at your most productive when you need to be.

In addition to serving as vice chair of the The Quiet Coalition, David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: The Healthcare Acoustics Project (HAP, a division of Quiet Communities Inc.), American National Standards Institute Committee S12, Workgroup 44, The Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Working Group—a partner of the American Hospital Association and the American Institute of Architects. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0 (2012, Springer-Verlag), a contributor to the National Academy of Engineering report “Technology for a Quieter America,” and to the US-GSA publication “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics (LARA) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He recently retired from the board of directors of the American Tinnitus Association. A graduate of the University of California/Berkeley with graduate degrees from Cornell University, he is a frequent organizer of and speaker at professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.

Hospital noise still a problem? What’s being done?

This photo has been released into the public domain by its author, Tomasz Sienicki

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

This news story asserts that noise in hospitals is steadily increasing. In fact, the trend is actually the other way: for over a decade now, hospitals have been struggling to get this problem under control. And the Affordable Care Act is helping.

How? ACA includes something called the HCAHPS—patient-centered care survey that hospitals are required to send out to every patient within a few days of a hospital stay, and results of this survey are available to the public. The HCAHPS survey is a short one, about 20 questions, including one called the “noise-at-night question” that asks former patients whether their room quiet at night.

Guess what? That question gets the WORST response every time! That’s been an eye-opener for the people who run hospitals–their boards of directors–because before ACA and HCAHPS nobody really cared what patients thought. Now hospitals’ federal reimbursements are linked to their HCAHPS scores. So a big wake-up call went down from hospital board rooms to the clinical staffs—“fix the noise problems, we can’t afford negative patient reviews because they reduce our hospital’s profit margins!”

But what can they do to fix the noise problems? Lots. I’m proud to say that I lead a U.S. national group that has been working on the hospital noise problem since 2005–that’s 15 years–called the Healthcare Acoustics Project, an independent, all-volunteer community of professionals that develops national and international codes and standards for the health care industry. HAP published the first “comprehensive national criteria for noise control in American hospitals and healthcare facilities” in 2010, and we’ve been steadily improving those criteria ever since. Now they’re embedded in the building codes in most of the U.S. and administered by each state’s building code authorities.

So next time you or a loved one is hospitalized, take a close look and a careful listen to noise and privacy levels in their sleeping quarters. If it’s noisy, COMPLAIN LOUDLY and mention that you know about the HCAHPS survey.

We’re pretty certain you’ll get a response pretty quickly. Because patients now have an effective voice thanks to the patient-centered care movement!

In addition to serving as vice chair of the The Quiet Coalition, David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: The Healthcare Acoustics Project (HAP, a division of Quiet Communities Inc.), American National Standards Institute Committee S12, Workgroup 44, The Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Working Group—a partner of the American Hospital Association and the American Institute of Architects. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0 (2012, Springer-Verlag), a contributor to the National Academy of Engineering report “Technology for a Quieter America,” and to the US-GSA publication “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics (LARA) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He recently retired from the board of directors of the American Tinnitus Association. A graduate of the University of California/Berkeley with graduate degrees from Cornell University, he is a frequent organizer of and speaker at professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.

The New Yorker asks: Is Noise The Next Big Public Health Crisis?

Photo credit: ŠJů licensed under CC BY 4.0

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

This superbly written piece appeared in the New Yorker magazine online edition May 6 (it is in the May 13, 2019, print edition). Kudos to staff writer David Owen for his second article on the subject of noise–his first, on high-tech hopes for the hard of hearing, was published in March 2017. Owen also has a book coming out this October called “Volume Control: Hearing in a Deafening Worldthat we eagerly await—could this book help tip the scales?

We’re especially proud that Mr. Owen worked with several of The Quiet Coalition’s founders to produce this latest piece: our chair, Daniel Fink, MD, Arline Bronzaft, PhD, Les Blomberg, Bryan Pollard and maybe others. The first three are quoted in the piece and Bryan facilitated contact between the writer and the hyperacusis patient whose story appeared in the article, and assisted with fact checking on hyperacusis.

When we started The Quiet Coalition, our goal was to act as a reliable and accurate source of science stories to major media. The Quiet Coalition has assembled a outstanding group of members who are willing to share their knowledge and noise contacts with editors and reporters. As this and several other articles show, it’s working!

In addition to serving as vice chair of the The Quiet Coalition, David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: The Acoustics Research Council, American National Standards Institute Committee S12, Workgroup 44, The Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Working Group—a partner of the American Hospital Association. He is the lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0 (2012, Springer-Verlag), a contributor to the National Academy of Engineering report “Technology for a Quieter America,” and to the US-GSA guidance “Sound Matters”, and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics (LARA) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He recently retired from the board of directors of the American Tinnitus Association. A graduate of the University of California/Berkeley with graduate degrees from Cornell University, he is a frequent organizer of and speaker at professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.

Watch out: FAA Ok’s Google to start drone deliveries

Photo credit: Richard Unten licensed under CC BY 2.0

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

The 36 members of the Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus, along with it’s 36 regional affiliates groups, the National Quiet Skies Coalition, deserve congratulations for the many years of work they put into getting language into the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act. That language forces the long recalcitrant FAA to take community noise much seriously.

We were both amazed and relieved that President Trump signed the Act, which included the new noise-control measures. Nothing’s perfect, but this is a step forward.

But watch out, here comes another noise problem embedded in the same Act: corporate fleets of drone aircraft invading neighborhoods to make home deliveries for Amazon, Google, UPS, etc.

If you’ve been exposed to recreational drones—which typically have four rotors–you know they’re battery powered but not noise free. In fact, a recreational drone sounds disturbingly like a swarm of mosquitos. Listen here:

But these corporate drones are much bigger and capable of carrying 5-pound packages to your neighbor’s door.

How bad can that be? Carrying a 5-pound package may require drones with as many as 13 rotors—3 times as many as a tiny recreational drone.

We sincerely hope the Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus is ready to roll up their sleeves and get back to work. “Invasion of the drones” is about to begin….

In addition to serving as vice chair of the The Quiet Coalition, David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: The Acoustics Research Council, American National Standards Institute Committee S12, Workgroup 44, The Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Working Group—a partner of the American Hospital Association. He is the lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0 (2012, Springer-Verlag), a contributor to the National Academy of Engineering report “Technology for a Quieter America,” and to the US-GSA guidance “Sound Matters”, and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics (LARA) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He recently retired from the board of directors of the American Tinnitus Association. A graduate of the University of California/Berkeley with graduate degrees from Cornell University, he is a frequent organizer of and speaker at professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.

Watch out: Here come Uber’s flying taxis

Photo credit: This photo is in the public domain.

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

I started paying attention to electric aircraft several years ago because electrically powered aircraft could be much quieter than jet aircraft. And wouldn’t that be nice?

Well, here’s a surprise: the first generation of quiet, electrically powered aircraft are not going to be huge passenger aircraft flying quietly between major airports around the world. Rather, they’re most likely going to be urban air-taxis that take off vertically from skyscraper roof tops and buzz around major cities like swarms of dragonflies. In other words, a whole new class of small, short-range, vertical-takeoff aircraft suitable for a few (rich) passengers being ferried about by Uber—with pilots or (allegedly) autonomously.

Hmmm…does that mean less urban noise or more urban noise? Less chaos or more? We’ve noted before that NASA is partnering with Uber (and others) on this new class of vertical take-off and landing aircraft. Airbus and Boeing, along with many others aircraft companies large and small, have already demonstrated test VTOLs.

Remember that famous scene of King Kong climbing up a New York City skyscraper while being harassed by tiny aircraft? That dystopian retro-future is a scenario that might well make you pause to wonder.

So watch out! Aviation noise may mean something entirely different from what many communities organized around the National Quiet Skies Coalition think they’re battling now. Technology is already a step ahead, noise advocates must follow.

In addition to serving as vice chair of the The Quiet Coalition, David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: The Acoustics Research Council, American National Standards Institute Committee S12, Workgroup 44, The Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Working Group—a partner of the American Hospital Association. He is the lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0 (2012, Springer-Verlag), a contributor to the National Academy of Engineering report “Technology for a Quieter America,” and to the US-GSA guidance “Sound Matters”, and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics (LARA) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He recently retired from the board of directors of the American Tinnitus Association. A graduate of the University of California/Berkeley with graduate degrees from Cornell University, he is a frequent organizer of and speaker at professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.

San Jose tackled two noise problems in one meeting

Photo credit: Tim Wilson licensed under CC BY 2.0

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

In San Jose, California, the City Council recently considered two separate community noise issues in the same meeting: leaf blowers and train noise. Either the Council members are brave, because they’re willing to take on two typically nasty and intractable battles at once, or they were in for a nightmare meeting they didn’t anticipate!

Read the San Jose Spotlight article above closely and you’ll see that California actually has some tools available to regulate noise that many other regions of the U.S. do not, such as the California Air Resources Board and a statewide cap-and-trade program. Either of those programs could fund a “buy-back/Buy-Quiet” program that would remove polluting gas-powered leaf blowers and other gas-powered outdoor maintenance equipment and substitute electrical alternatives. That could accelerate the state-wide regulation of small gas-powered devices. In fact, California is far ahead of the rest of the country in regulating this equipment, with about 70 cities in the state having already addressed this problem

According to the San Jose Spotlight, Sunnyvale, Los Gatos, Los Altos, Palo Alto, and Mountain View have already banned gas leaf blowers and roughly “70 cities across California have some restrictions on gas leaf blowers, including Los Angeles, South Pasadena, Santa Barbara, Malibu, Beverly Hills and West Hollywood.”

What about train noise? The train-noise issue is entirely separate. But it turns out that the regulatory agency did NOT consult with local neighborhoods before they increased night-time train schedules. So San Jose caught the agency on a technicality.

Either way, this must have been an interesting City Council meeting in San Jose, and we wish the city’s citizens good fortune!

In addition to serving as vice chair of the The Quiet Coalition, David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: The Acoustics Research Council, American National Standards Institute Committee S12, Workgroup 44, The Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Working Group—a partner of the American Hospital Association. He is the lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0 (2012, Springer-Verlag), a contributor to the National Academy of Engineering report “Technology for a Quieter America,” and to the US-GSA guidance “Sound Matters”, and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics (LARA) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He recently retired from the board of directors of the American Tinnitus Association. A graduate of the University of California/Berkeley with graduate degrees from Cornell University, he is a frequent organizer of and speaker at professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.

Zoos learn that some visitors need hearing protection

Photo credit: Dj1997 licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

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

This story by WLNS.com News looks at Potter Park Zoo in Lansing, Michigan, where ear protection is available to visitors who may be bothered by “sensory overload.”

Sensory overload affects many people, including autistic children and adults, and people with auditory conditions such as tinnitus and hyperacusis.

Kudos to the Lansing Zoo! This is a wonderful idea, and we hope many other zoos and public venues will follow their example.

In addition to serving as vice chair of the The Quiet Coalition, David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: The Acoustics Research Council, American National Standards Institute Committee S12, Workgroup 44, The Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Working Group—a partner of the American Hospital Association. He is the lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0 (2012, Springer-Verlag), a contributor to the National Academy of Engineering report “Technology for a Quieter America,” and to the US-GSA guidance “Sound Matters”, and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics (LARA) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He recently retired from the board of directors of the American Tinnitus Association. A graduate of the University of California/Berkeley with graduate degrees from Cornell University, he is a frequent organizer of and speaker at professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.