Acoustical Society meeting: Highlights and media registration

September 21, 2011

The 162nd Meeting of the Acoustical Society of America (ASA) will include more than 1,000 presentations in the physical sciences, engineering, and medicine. Topics include: the evolution of speech; the science of music; the impact of noise on the natural world; and how sound - both pleasant and irritating - impacts the way we learn, work, and play.

This meeting on the science of sound will take place October 31 - November 4 in San Diego, California, at the Town and Country Hotel. The ASA offers complimentary media registration to bona fide working journalists; see details below. Journalists may also remotely access meeting information with ASA's World Wide Press Room, which will go live one week before the conference begins.

Preliminary Meeting Highlights


"Impacts of Classroom Acoustics on Elementary Student Achievement": A roomful of elementary school students can produce a fair amount of noise, but a study of unoccupied classrooms suggests that a room's natural acoustics have a big impact on achievement test scores.

"Chronic Noise Exposure in National Parks": Noise pollution is a well-recognized problem in urban areas. New research reveals that noise pollution also affects wildlife in our national parks.

"Acoustic Detection of Unexploded Ordnance": Sites for military training, post-war disposal of unused ordnance, and former conflicts contain bodies of water where discarded munitions can linger hidden for decades. These munitions pose an environmental issue through possible chemical contamination as well as a lethal threat to the public. Recent research shows that low-frequency sound may be harnessed to help find these devices for remediation.

"Interior Car Sounds: What You Think You Hear Counts as Much as What You Actually Hear": Auto companies carefully engineer cars to achieve the highest quality interior sound possible. Perceived sound quality, however, may have as much to do with subjective opinions as it does with the actual acoustic design of the car. A new system tries to take both psychological and physiological evaluations into account.


"Don't Get Caught with Your Microphone Open": Some of the most provocative comments by our legislators are made when the meeting is over but the microphones are still on. It may be possible to design a sound system that can effectively capture all the words we're supposed to hear without airing the unintended commentary.

"Stonehenge-like Auditory Illusion": On an open field, blindfolded volunteers listening to a constant pitch presumed that they were surrounded by pillars and solid objects that seemed to have characteristics reminiscent of Stonehenge. In reality, their sense of hearing was tricked by the interference patterns from the tones, which created an audio illusion by casting "acoustic shadows."

"Chimpanzees and Humans May Share Common Ancestor in Speech Perception": Chimpanzees, the evolutionary cousins of humans, share quite a few physical and perceptual traits with us. New research suggests that a latent form of speech perception may have been present in one of our common ancestors.

"Improving Automatic Speech Recognition by Learning from Human Errors": During the past several decades, computers have become more and more proficient at understanding human speech. Once the signal-to-noise ratio falls below a certain threshold, however, machines still fumble. Newer methods of "learning" may allow machines to bridge the human-machine gap.


"Was That the Ivory-billed Woodpecker?": Critically endangered, the ivory-billed woodpecker has proven an elusive target for birdwatchers and ornithologists. This lack of conclusive data presents challenges for the species' hoped-for recovery. Another area of detection, acoustics, is equally challenging, but it may yield more clues as to the whereabouts of this hard-to-find avian.

"Quietly Following the Endangered California Porpoise": California porpoises are difficult to detect and observe. This is due in part to their tendency to avoid noisy motorized vessels. But by taking a passive and stealthy approach, scientists have been better able to find and follow these endangered small cetaceans.

"Human Speech Caught in the Act of Being Created": Bringing to bear the latest in high-speed video, scientists have been able to study the entire physiology of how humans create speech. The results compare subjects with and without voice disorders and shine light on the relationship between the vocal cords and acoustic voice production.

"Male and Female Voices Show Stress in Different Ways": If you're stressed, you can show it in your voice, but males and females appear to manifest stress in their voices differently.

"Trade-offs No More: Protect Your Hearing and Understand Speech": Hearing protection devices provide unquestioned benefit, but some workers choose not to wear them because they feel it lessens their ability to communicate. A new system of active noise reduction may provide essential protection while still enabling clear communication.


"Chalkboard Squeaking: Psychoacoustics Reveals the Pain": They top the list of annoying sounds: chalkboard squeaking and nails against a chalkboard. But why is that? New research combines a series of perception experiments to tease out the nasty parts of the sound.

"Acoustics Monitors Mammals in Wake of Gulf Oil Spill": One of the major concerns about the Deep Water Horizon oil spill is its impact on marine mammals. A recent acoustical survey suggests that there has been a marked decrease in the sperm whale population density near the spill. Acoustic data about a range of environmental factors, including noise and food-call densities, were analyzed to help determine the most likely causes of this decline.

"'Bang! Crack!' Forensic Gunshot Acoustics": When a gun is fired, it produces two distinct sounds: the muzzle blast (bang) and the shockwave of the bullet (crack). Taken together these sounds can reveal a great deal about the nature of the gunshot, even in a highly distorted sound environment.

"Sound and Viruses Unite to Attack Tumors": Using viruses to target tumors is emerging as a highly promising area of medical research. One significant obstacle, however, is getting the viruses to effectively penetrate the tumor. A potential pathway around this obstacle is achieved by using ultrasound and microbubbles inside the tumor.


"Human Sounds Jamming the Bottlenose Dolphin": Bottlenose dolphins rely on echolocation to hunt and navigate, but little is understood about how dolphins process their own "clicks," particularly in the presence of human-generated noises. A new study examines whether masking from anthropogenic sources interferes with echolocation performance.

"Vuvuzelas: Dangerous or Just Annoying?": Capturing almost as much attention as the games themselves, the inexpensive plastic horns known as vuvuzelas became a constant and largely unwelcome fixture at the 2010 World Cup held in South Africa. Fearing that these cacophonous contraptions would appear at other sporting events and cause more noise problems, a team of researchers studied their acoustic properties to better predict sound levels.

"Highest Pitch Human Sounds": Role in Singing and Speaking: The human ear is most sensitive to sounds between one and five kilohertz, but humans routinely produce tones while speaking and singing that are higher than this comfort range. This high-frequency sound energy may in fact contain information that normal-hearing listeners can potentially access and utilize to determine certain facts about its source.

The Town and Country Hotel is located at 500 Hotel Circle North, San Diego, California, 92108. Reservations: 1-800-772-8527; Main Number: 1-619-291-7131.

Main meeting website:
Searchable index:
Hotel site:

WORLD WIDE PRESS ROOM In the coming weeks, ASA's World Wide Press Room ( will be updated with additional tips on dozens of newsworthy stories and with lay-language papers, which are 300-1200 word summaries of presentations written by scientists for a general audience and accompanied by photos, audio, and video.

PRESS REGISTRATION We will grant free registration to credentialed full-time journalists and professional freelance journalists working on assignment for major news outlets. If you are a reporter and would like to attend, contact Charles E. Blue (, 301-209-3091), who can also help with setting up interviews and obtaining images, sound clips, or background information.

ABOUT THE ACOUSTICAL SOCIETY OF AMERICA The Acoustical Society of America (ASA) is the premier international scientific society in acoustics devoted to the science and technology of sound. Its 7,000 members worldwide represent a broad spectrum of the study of acoustics. ASA publications include The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America (the world's leading journal on acoustics), Acoustics Today magazine, books, and standards on acoustics. The society also holds two major scientific meetings each year. For more information about ASA, visit our website at

American Institute of Physics

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