What Sound Looks Like

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NPR’s Skunk Bear Tumblr has a great new video on the schlieren visualization technique. The schlieren optical set-up is relatively simple but very powerful, as shown in the video. The technique is sensitive to variations in the refractive index of air; this bends light passing through the test area so that changes in fluid density appear as light and dark regions in the final image. Since air’s density changes with temperature and with compressibility, the technique gets used extensively to visualize buoyancy-driven flows and supersonic flows. Since sound waves are compression waves which change the air’s density as they travel, schlieren can capture them, too. (Video credit: A. Cole/NPR’s Skunk Bear)

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