Science - Bang the drum for science

28th September 2012 at 01:00
A lesson about sound will be beamed live from the Royal Albert Hall

It has played host to more than 150,000 different events and is affectionately known as "the nation's village hall".

But never before in its colourful history - with productions ranging from rock concerts to operas, the Eurovision Song Contest and even the finals of Miss World - has the Royal Albert Hall suggested that an audience wear earplugs.

Next month, however, youthful spectators will be invited to insert earplugs during the performance of a unique science lesson, "What is Sound?". In this 15-minute session, musicians will use sound to demonstrate the properties of sound waves. It will be beamed live from the Elgar Room at the London concert hall to secondary schools around the country via Facebook and the TES website.

Presented by broadcasters Dr Yan Wong and Dallas Campbell (both from BBC One's Bang Goes the Theory), the aim is to enthuse children around the world about becoming involved in the arts and sciences.

The lesson will begin with a bang, demonstrating the expansion and compression of air caused by the single beat of a drum. But the beat rate will soon increase and the audience will be invited to try to follow the beat with claps. As the frequency of the beat increases, the clapping will merge into applause. The sound waves will be shown on a sound wave monitor, or oscilloscope.

In the second phase, a singer will show how vocal cords work in a similar way. The rationale? To demonstrate that all sounds are produced by vibrations travelling through a medium and that vibrations produced by different materials generate different sound waves.

The lesson will go on to introduce a synthesiser, which shows how synthesised sound can vibrate the strings of a double bass if you hit the right frequencies, and demonstrate that sound carries energy. In the grand finale, a sheet of glass will be shattered using sound alone (enter the earplugs).

There is an irony in a lesson on sound being produced at the Royal Albert Hall. It originally had such troubled acoustics, with such a distinct echo, that it was jokingly said to be the only venue where a British composer could be sure of hearing their work twice.

The lesson is a dramatic approach to a subject that is unfortunately perceived by some learners as difficult and boring. And transforming the hallowed stage of the Royal Albert Hall into an international classroom is a sensational way to attract pupils to the sciences.

"We'll be tackling the subject of 'sound' with the usual enthusiasm, starting by involving the Royal Albert Hall band and ending up by shattering glass with pure sound," says Wong. "Broadcasting the lesson live online means we can move away from a formal science lesson and take our own distinctive approach, involving unusual stuff from the world around us."

Lucy Noble, head of programming and education at the Royal Albert Hall, explains that the charity sees it as a natural extension of its educational facilities. "The science lesson offers us the chance to take the hall into classrooms across the country and even the world," she says. "We hope this will be the first of many live broadcasts."

Such sophisticated technology is a far cry from the way the hall was built. The glazed, wrought-iron framework of the dome - designed by Rowland Mason Ordish - was trialled in Manchester, taken apart, then brought to London by horse and cart to be reconstructed in time for the building's opening in 1871.

Alessio Bernardelli is a TES subject adviser. The science lesson will be broadcast live online from 2pm on 11 October. For details, go to

What else?

Visit for resources and to watch TES partner Royal Albert Hall's live science lesson.

For an interactive lesson introducing sound try louisemurtha's PowerPoint.


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