Now That Sounds Cool: The Unexpected Benefits of Sound Research
Most of us boot up our computers every day to find “funny” emails that are not actually all that funny, as well as a few messages from friends or colleagues that are written in the most baffling tone, leaving us to wonder if they were mad at us, trying to tell a joke, or something else entirely. Without hearing the sound of a voice at the other end, jokes turn into groaners and communications get muddled. But these are far from the only ways that sounds affects us every day.
As Canada Research Chair in Voice Biomechanics and Mechanobiology, Dr. Luc Mongeau is working to enhance our understanding of sound, studying things we’d expect—like improving hearing aids and helping people with damaged voices—and a few things we probably wouldn’t, including a novel way that sound can act as a refrigerator.
One of the more immediate impacts of Mongeau’s work could be in the operating room, where his computer-generated models could help surgeons operating on people with damaged vocal chords. That may sound like a rare problem, but many people—actors, singers, public speakers and even the occasional boisterous fan—can develop a common voice condition called nodules. These are similar to blisters on the vocal folds, the two lips of soft tissue in the larynx that oscillate to create sound. Mongeau’s models could help make the surgery to repair this problem more effective, and may even lead to new therapies or prosthetic devices.
Similar models of sound could also be valuable in dealing with another common but not often talked about problem: hearing damage. Causes can include not only obvious culprits like noise from airplanes or loud machinery, but also some surprisingly dangerous but frequent problems, including the loud noises hearing aids transmit on windy days.
Other applications for Mongeau’s research are even more unique, including using sound waves in something called “thermo-acoustic refrigeration,” a way toof supercharge traditional refrigeration achieveing cooling from high -amplitude sound wavesand, at the same time, make it more which that is environmentally friendly, by using less power and limitingeliminatingsince it eliminates the need for refrigerant.
Even if these cool ideas do not reach the market for years, Mongeau’s research will have an immediate impact. In an aging society where hearing aids may soon be as commonplace as glasses, Mongeau’s deep understanding of sound will help elderly Canadians stay engaged with their families, while helping the rest of us hear and speak more clearly, promoting one of the most important of all Canadian qualities—basic understanding.