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Sound Waves: The Symphony of Physics

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Dr Helen Czerski takes us on a sonic odyssey through the sounds of the universe – to reveal what the physics of sound can tell us about the world and how it works

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The world is awash with sound waves, they are all around us. However sound is so much more than simply a soundtrack to our lives, and the more we’ve discovered about the physics of sound, the more extraordinary the secrets it has revealed.

In this surprising and engrossing two part series Dr Helen Czerski will go on a spectacular journey into the world of sound to discover what it is, how it’s detected and what it can tell us about the world, and even the universe. From the top of one of Europe’s most active volcanoes to Big Ben, Helen will explore the limits of sound.

Helen also examines how the very nature of sound has helped us survive, communicate and explore our surroundings. From imaging the vocal cords of singer Lesley Garrett to tracing the development of sonar technology Helen probes the power of sound to communicate, revealing how sound has helped us see underwater, driven the evolution of extraordinary biological systems and helped us understand our planet.

Packed with spectacular imagery, jaw-dropping experiments and some of the most remarkable sounds you’ve ever heard, this is the ultimate guide to one of our universe’s most magical phenomena. 

The first episode of Sound Waves: The Symphony of Physics will be broadcast on BBC Four on Thursday 2nd March at 9pm. Full broadcast details, and watch again links, can be found on

Episode Guide

Using Sound

Helen Czerski stands inside an anechoic chamber. Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: The BBC Visiting a hidden location buried beneath the hills of Scotland, Helen experiences some of the most extreme acoustics in the world. Here she learns just how much information can be carried by sound. She discovers how sound has driven the evolution of truly incredible biological systems and complex relationships between creatures that exploit sound for hunting - and escaping from predators. Helen demonstrates how sound waves diffract can bend around objects, and in doing so help us sense danger and locate it.

Through the story of a cochlea implant patient Helen explores the complicated way our ears can translate sound waves - a physical vibration in the air - into an electrical signal our brain can understand.

Helen explains how we are not limited to passively detecting sound waves, we can also use them to actively probe the world. From detecting submarines to uncovering the secrets of our planet, sound waves are instrumental in revealing things hidden from the world of light.  On the cold North Sea Helen investigates how marine archeologists are using sound waves to uncover the remarkable human stories buried beneath the sea. Yet we are not limited to using sound waves here on Earth, Helen explains how sound has been used to better understand distant, alien worlds in the outer solar system.

Episodes in this series

Episode Description
Making Sound In this programme, Dr Helen Czerski investigates the extraordinary science behind the sounds we’re familiar with and... Read more
Using Sound In this programme Dr Helen Czerski examines the extraordinary messages sound wave carry, and how they help us... Read more