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Good Vibrations: July 23 STEM Café to explore physics of musical instruments

July 8, 2015

Photo of an acoustic guitarSnare drums snap, bells ting-a-ling and flutes whistle like birds.

But why does one instrument sound any different than another? And how do objects produce sound in the first place?

NIU alum Andrew Morrison has spent his career using physics to study these questions. At the next STEM Café, he will present “Good Vibrations: The Physics of Musical Instruments,” a crash course – complete with musical demonstrations – in how basic scientific laws help us understand the sounds that make up our favorite tunes.

The free talk will take place from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday, July 23, at the House Café, 263 E. Lincoln Hwy. in DeKalb.

Morrison, who received his Ph.D. in physics from NIU in 2005, is a professor of physics and astronomy at Joliet Junior College. He also chairs the Technical Committee on Musical Acoustics of the Acoustical Society of America. At NIU, he focused on the physics of musical instruments, especially the vibration and sound radiation of the Caribbean steelpan.

Morrison says that his talk will show people how to understand finely crafted musical instruments scientifically by applying the basic laws of physics to an instrument’s individual components.

“I think people might be surprised to find out how seemingly complex musical instruments can be simple to understand,” Morrison says. “At the same time, some seemingly simple instruments are actually quite complicated.”

Photo of a tambourineEric Schroeder will perform the musical demonstrations during the talk. Schroeder received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in guitar performance from NIU’s School of Music. He now works with NIU’s Community School of the Arts and is on the music faculty at Rockford College. Shroeder also specializes in Suzuki guitar and is the founder of the NIUkulele Ensemble.

Good Vibrations is part of NIU STEM Outreach’s series of monthly STEM Cafés, which are free and open to the public. Food and drinks will be available for purchase from the House Café.

Organizer Judith Dymond looks forward to hosting this event at a space known for its live band performances

“This is our first time working with the House, but it seemed like the perfect venue for a talk about the science of music,” Dymond says. “We’re hoping that both House Café and STEM Café regulars will learn some new things, listen to some great musical demonstrations, and enjoy a night out.”

In addition to the STEM Café series, NIU STEM Outreach hosts other engaging events throughout the year to increase public awareness of the critical roles the STEM fields – science, technology, engineering and math – play in our everyday lives.

For more information on STEM Cafés and other STEM events, call (815) 753-4751 or email [email protected].

by Peter C. Baker