The Beat of the Scientific Drum

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The Blast lab at Imperial College, London, is a percussionist’s dream. During experiments, which examine the effects of explosions on humans, metal plates are bashed upwards under pressure, weights clang against each other and wooden planks are used for forcible adjustments to the machinery. These sounds happen over and over as the scientists run dozens of tests, seeking enough data to draw meaning from the noise. Taken out of context, a single action in the lab means little, but when orchestrated correctly, a coherent story about biomechanics can be told.

We spent an afternoon recording members of the lab as they performed repeated blast tests. The work would seem familiar to any musician – tuning instruments, setting up recording devices and repeating the same actions to get the desired result.

This video was constructed from scratch, using real sounds and footage from the lab. Some adjustment of the raw sound was necessary, and string sounds had to be recreated using stringed instruments. As with any complex project, pulling together the disparate pieces was a real challenge!

While it may seem lighthearted, there’s a strong message behind the video. The finished product of a scientific investigation, like a song, is inevitably the result of days of practice, experimentation and collaboration. A scientist might have an idea of what they want their investigation to sound like, but the process of science will throw up challenges, test creativity and occasionally uncover entirely new melodies.

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