Cymatics: Turning Sound into Art

Cymatics: Turning Sound into Art

Cymatics are visual patterns that combine
three ingredients: a thin plate, a pinch of loose material, like sand or salt, and a heavy
dose of music. They let us actually /see/ sound … and it’s
kind of beautiful. Sound is a vibration through a medium, like
air, that eventually vibrates our eardrums, which triggers an electrical signal to our
brain that we interpret as a noise. But these waves can vibrate more than just
our eardrums — they vibrate everything in their path. If you yell loudly enough, for example, the
sound waves are strong enough to vibrate through a whole wall, which is why you might get complaints
from your neighbors. Sometimes you can even see these vibrations,
like when your rock ‘n roll garage band shakes and rattles everything in the house. Also an activity that might attract angry
neighbors. These vibrations may seem like mini-earthquakes,
but every single one follows the laws of physics. And it’s easy to see these laws in action
when sound waves go through something visible, like sand. One way to make cymatics is to spread sand
over a thin plate and then produce sound waves right in the center. The sound waves spread out from the center,
which makes the plate and the sand vibrate. One of the principles that helps create cymatics
is the idea that sound waves are longitudinal waves. That means the particles that the wave is
moving through are vibrating in the same direction as the wave itself. The particles move back and forth so that
there are some areas of compression — where all the particles have moved really close
to one another — and some areas of expansion — where all the particles have moved away
from one another. But there’s more: to make your beautiful
artwork, you have to make something called a standing wave. A standing wave is pretty much what it sounds
like: a wave that looks like it’s standing still. It happens when the sound wave travels to
the edge of the plate and breaks into two parts. One part of the wave will keep going out into
the air, but the other part of the wave will reflect, which means it turns around and starts
moving back toward where it came from. These reflected waves then overlap with new
incoming waves. When two waves interfere with each other,
their effects either add or subtract from one another. Like if you look at just one grain of sand,
and both waves are trying to vibrate it to the left, the sand will move farther to the
left. That’s constructive interference. But if one wave is vibrating the sand to the
left while the other wave is vibrating it to the right, they’ll cancel out each other
— so the sand won’t move at all! That’s called destructive interference. These spots, where the sand stays still, are
called nodes. At certain frequencies, these nodes will be
permanent because all the waves will keep canceling each other out. Meanwhile, other spots will have as much constructive
interference as possible — so the sand is moving super fast and much less noticeable. It might look like there’s no wave traveling
through the sand at all, but really it’s two waves moving in opposite directions. Different frequencies can make lots of different
standing waves — and therefore different patterns. In fact, the higher the frequency, the more
cycles of the wave you can fit on one plate, and the more intricate the image becomes. We’ve been just been talking about flat
plates so far, but sound waves actually move in all directions. So, you /can/ actually make these patterns
in 3D. It’s pretty tricky to do, because you have
to account for the fact that gravity is trying to pull the sand — or whatever else you’re
using to create the pattern — to the ground. But at the University of Tokyo, a group of
researchers were up for the challenge. In 2014, they announced that they’d used
ultrasound waves, tiny styrofoam balls, and the right interference pattern to make art
float in midair! Just like in the plate, the sound waves had
constructive and destructive interference. At the nodes, this effect was strong enough
to overcome gravity and allow the styrofoam to stay perfectly still. They’d created floating art — and in the
process, discovered a new way to make things levitate. Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow,
which was brought to you by our patrons on Patreon. If you want to help support this show, just
go to And don’t forget to go to
and subscribe!

100 thoughts on “Cymatics: Turning Sound into Art

  1. WOW! So cool 3D floating art – now that it has been done, the creatives out there will develop it further and have a lot of fun!

  2. Olivia really explains basic concepts a lot. Which might be nice for some viewers but I just kinda get monotoned out by it.
    Also, her voice is pretty monotone.

  3. +Scishow – suggested correction: Soundwaves may be longitudinal, but the mode-shapes in the "thin plate" create transverse motion in the plate (not longitudinal!). They essentially "toss away" sand-particles on the flappy sections and keep the sand on the nodes. The polystyrene beads experiment is longitudinal, though 🙂

  4. This is really intriguing, i believe there may be a lot more to this than just art. For example, what if it is sound waves ( or something similar ) that define the shape of every single thing that exists in our reality? And how most humans respond to music the way they do, with specific types of sound waves being more or less effective on specific types of people.

  5. I don't want to sound mean, but the face piercings are so distracting I can't focus on what she's saying. I'm sure she's a nice person and she's trying hard and all but there's a reason why news anchors don't have piercings and such. But keep going, I'll try to get over it.

  6. Her vocal fry and valley girl accent is extremely annoying.
    Good information otherwise, but please be professional in your delivery.

  7. I like how neutral her face is. I find it soothing

    She's doing her best. All commenters to this video are doing their best. Everyone is doing their best according to their understanding of the world.

  8. Some people think that the "y" in cymatics should be pronounced more like an "i" when you spell it without the silent "n," but that's just semantics.

  9. 3:10 people have been saying that's how the Egyptians built the pyramids for decades.  Now that they are doing it in labs will we finally take the theory seriously?? …. yeah right

  10. Vocay fry, every video, end of every sentence. When you conclude a thought youre letting your vocal cords drop for emphasis. You choose to do this, please stop.

  11. Did anyone else notice that they accidentally uploaded this video again along with their newest video? They removed it and I don't know if I'm one of the few that probably saw it.

  12. A question for SciShow: How do the cameras and picture playback (with user control of viewing angle and continuous length) that Google-street-view has work?

  13. I can't watch this host anymore. At least she's not waving her hands everywhere anymore. Maybe they can put a picture with a cat over her.

  14. top tip, as a fellow glasses wearer you can get your glasses coated to be anti reflective. the specs you're wearing don't seem to be have coated which means they are super reflective. this is actually distracting to watch in the videos for me. hope that helps – great video though! 🙂

  15. The last thing you showed us is still technically 2D… If we could see the 3D structures in the future that would be so cool!!! It should probably at least give some of us a better understanding of the hydrogen atom, or maybe just electron orbitals in general? Then finally we'll be able to solve other atoms?

  16. I'm curious: why does the violin bow on the outside edge of the plate cause the sound to come from the center column supporting the plate to make symmetrical designs?

  17. Sorry, but I think this video is really misleading. Cymatics is created by transverse standing waves in the solid plate (vibrating up and down), not longitudinal standing waves in the air (or in the plate, I wasn't sure which they were implying). The (linear) nodes don't move, so the sand settles there, while it's jostled off of everywhere else. The center of the plate is forced up and down, not side to side, so the waves aren't longitudinal. The plate CREATES sound waves in the air like a speaker (and indeed can be forced by a speaker), but the waves creating the sand patterns aren't sound waves in the plate, as this video claims.

    Also, they say the sand is vibrating longitudinally, but sand itself doesn't actually vibrate that much in response to sound–the grains are too big and disconnected to act like a fluid (passing the wave from one particle to the next) and too small to act like a solid (and have vibrations within each grain). Sorry Scishow, I love you, but this video could have used some more research.

  18. Any time Olivia is on I specifically like the video just to counter the whiny cunts.

    Love ya guys, keep on being superficial.

  19. Can that plate reproduce a cymatic pattern corresponding to Urithiru, priest? Or do you only have patterns for the standard four cities?

  20. why did Germany produced so many(!!!!!) good mathematician and physicists in 19th and 20th century???? do a show on that please

  21. This would have been a much better video if they didn't keep zooming in on fish hooks she seems to have stuck in her face. Female facial mutilation is just not attractive in my book. She is getting better at speaking, thought there is something weird about her voice that is still like nails on a chalk board at times. It echos of a chain smoker in the throngs of throat cancer.

  22. This is one of those videos where it's really frustrating how they're trying to describe something visual… while showing footage of a person talking, and occasional text reiterating what they're saying.

  23. this is the way the pyramids were designed I believe. the ancients knew this stuff, and later, it was lost.. but it would be easy to move great things, if gravity was stopped with sound

  24. Concept: Play notes from a song one at a time, creating one of these to match each note, then hang them in order so it visually represents the original piece of music

  25. These videos would've been a lot more interesting and easy to understand if you actually provided visuals for what you are describing. I have to struggle to concentrate and make sense out of these explanations and end up clicking away cz it's not worth it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *