You are here:

Physics/physics of sound

Advertisement


Question
QUESTION: I know that sounds are vibratioss, eg. 440 vibration per second (440hz).
If I wanted to make the pitch a higher I could play 441hz. but could I play 440,5hz or is it impossible due to the fact that you can't have 0,5 vibrations per second?

ANSWER: Of course you can.  The second is an arbitrary human unit of time, there's nothing fundamental about vibrations that means you have to have so many whole vibrations in our human unit of a second.  440.5 Hz just means that you have 881 full vibrations in two seconds.  Similarly, you can have things at 38.79281476 Hz if you want...

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Thanks. I should have thought of that!
Is there a maximum of vibrations per second that one can have or is it an infinite number?

Answer
That depends on the material you're talking about.  In a crystal lattice, there is a minimum wavelength (maximum frequency) to the sound...the shortest the wavelength of a phonon (yes, there's a phonon, just like a photon) can be is about twice the spacing between atoms in a crystal.  Other materials are a little messier...but basically that determines your fundamental highest frequency of vibration on the quantum level.

Physics

All Answers


Answers by Expert:


Ask Experts

Volunteer


Dr. Stephen O. Nelson

Expertise

I can answer most basic physics questions, physics questions about science fiction and everyday observations of physics, etc. I'm also usually good for science fair advice (I'm the regional science fair director). I do not answer homework problems. I will occasionally point out where a homework solution went wrong, though. I'm usually good at explaining odd observations that seem counterintuitive, energy science, nuclear physics, nuclear astrophysics, and alternative theories of physics are my specialties.

Experience

I was a physics professor at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin, research in nuclear technology and nuclear astrophysics. My travelling science show saw over 20,000 students of all ages. I taught physics, nuclear chemistry, radiation safety, vacuum technology, and answer tons of questions as I tour schools encouraging students to consider careers in science. I moved on to a non-academic job with more research just recently.

Education/Credentials
Ph. D. from Duke University in physics, research in nuclear astrophysics reactions, gamma-ray astronomy technology, and advanced nuclear reactors.

©2016 About.com. All rights reserved.