Acoustical Society of America

A new way to cough, music for the deaf, toadfish sonic sabotage and more in meeting news

Acoustical Society of America meeting, Seattle, May 2327, 2011 

New way to cough
Independent inventor Sandy Hawkins has developed a new way to cough and expel mucus from the lungs — a loud purring sound made with the tip of the tongue and the thumb pressed against the lips. It works because mucus, like ketchup, is a non-Newtonian fluid that becomes more liquid when a force is applied, such as the low-frequency vibrations of purring. Hawkins based the new technique, presented May 27, on his FDA-approved “lung flute,” a plastic horn that hauls up goo with 16-hertz sound waves. Both are intended to be cheap ways to clean the lungs and collect samples for tuberculosis testing. —Devin Powell

THE PURR-COUGH from Science News on Vimeo.

Inventor Sandy Hawkins demonstrates a new and efficient way to cough, taking advantage of low-frequency vibrations that make mucus more liquid.
Credit: Sandy Hawkins

Whales stay far from sonar
Sonar may drive away blue whales, according to an analysis of thousands of hours of underwater recordings collected at two different sites off the coast of California. During Navy training exercises, the number of whale echolocation calls decreased as the intensity of sonar increased, Mariana Melcón and her colleagues at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California in San Diego reported on May 23. The researchers didn’t actually see the whales leave these areas. But their results follow a smaller-scale study by a different group in which a tagged beaked whale in the Bahamas was shown to flee from sonar (SN: 4/23/11, p. 16). —Devin Powell

Music for the deaf
Profoundly deaf people are one step closer to “hearing” music. The same algorithm that helps cell phones relay the human voice has now been incorporated into cochlear implants, surgically implanted devices that stimulate the auditory nerve. This algorithm, described in a May 27 talk, encodes pitch information that cochlear implants usually ignore. Nine people who received the modified implants were 10 to 20 percent better at distinguishing different pitches than were people with regular implants, says Fan-Gang Zeng, a neurobiologist at the University of California, Irvine. —Devin Powell

Stealthy fish sabotage
Male toadfish are ugly on the outside, and on the inside. They deliberately disrupt each other’s mating calls with a short “grunt” that evolved solely for that purpose, Allen Mensinger, a neurophysiologist at the University of Minnesota at Duluth reported May 25. This clicking sound, heard only during the mating season, almost always occurs during the middle of a neighbor’s call and seems to change the way such a call would sound to a female. And because the disruptive sound is comparatively soft, serenading males might not even realize they’re being sabotaged. —Devin Powell

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