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Acoustics Research Activities

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Acoustics is an interdisciplinary field of study that plays a role in a wide range of environmental and energy- related areas of research. The Graduate Program in Acoustics draws upon graduate faculty from a number of academic departments and the Applied Research Laboratory. This interdisciplinary faculty integrates both residence and distance education, and forefront research into a coherent academic program. Environmentally related research ranges from the molecular scale, by studying gas diffusion through soils, to the global scale, by studying aspects of the Earth's atmosphere and oceans. Energy related research involves studying the effects of creating electricity from sound, using sound to measure contaminant concentrations in alternative fuels, and improving the efficiency of combusting biomass.

Current research areas include:

Noise Control Engineering

Analyzes and mitigates noise levels radiated by a range of machines and consumer products that lead to annoyance, reduction in worker productivity, loss of sleep, hearing loss, and other problems having a significant physical and economic impact.


  • A cooling and heat engine technology that uses environmentally benign gases and, hence, will not potentially further deplete the ozone layer or contribute to global warming.
  • Uses high-amplitude sound waves to produce closed-cycle heat engines and refrigerators that create cooling or convert heat into sound. The sound is then turned into electricity without the conventional engine components such as pistons, linkages, valves, etc.

Transportation Noise

Highway noise, and commercial and military airplane and helicopter noise has a significant impact on surrounding communities. Penn State was designated the FAA and NASA Center of Excellence for Aircraft Noise and Aviation Emissions Mitigation in 2003.

Ocean Acoustics

Monitoring of the ocean's environment and investigations of the potential for impact of transportation and shipping noise on the behavior of marine mammals.

Atmospheric Acoustics

Meteorological conditions are frequently the critical factor determining the character of noise propagation from a source and the impacts of noise on individuals and/or communities.

Sonic Gas Analysis

Automated precision sound speed measurements are used to measure the in mean molecular weight to monitor diffusion of gases through soils, the metabolism of anaerobic bacteria that evolve hydrogen and measure contaminants like methane or hydrogen that could possibly leak from vehicles that use alternative fuels.

High-Efficiency Biomass Combustion

The development of high-efficiency cook stoves that use waste heat created from the combustion of biomass can be used to power a thermoacoustic heat engine. The electricity produced by the heat engine can run a fan to improve combustion efficiency, providing excess electricity for LED lighting and the charging of small appliances such as cellular phones and computers.