Reflection of Sound

Reflection of Sound


Sound bounces off a solid or a liquid like a rubber ball bounces off a wall. Like light, sound gets reflected at the surface of a solid or liquid and follows the same laws of reflection as you have studied in earlier classes. The directions in which the sound is incident and is reflected make equal angles with the normal to the reflecting surface at the point of incidence, and the three are in the same plane. An obstacle of large size which may be polished or rough is needed for the reflection of sound waves.



• Take two identical pipes, as shown in Fig. 12.11. You can make the pipes using chart paper. The length of the pipes should be sufficiently long as shown.
• Arrange them on a table near a wall.
• Keep a clock near the open end of one of the pipes and try to hear the sound of the clock through the other pipe.
• Adjust the position of the pipes so that you can best hear the sound of the clock.
• Now, measure the angles of incidence and reflection and see the relationship between the angles.
• Lift the pipe on the right vertically to a small height and observe what happens.




If we shout or clap near a suitable reflecting object such as a tall building or a mountain, we will hear the same sound again a little later. This sound which we hear is called an echo. The sensation of sound persists in our brain for about 0.1 s. To hear a distinct echo the time interval between the original sound and the reflected one must be at least 0.1s. If we take the speed of sound to be 344 m/s at a given temperature, say at 22 ºC in air, the sound must go to the obstacle and reach back the ear of the listener on reflection after 0.1s. Hence, the total distance covered by the sound from the point of generation to the reflecting surface and back should be at least (344 m/s) × 0.1 s = 34.4 m. Thus, for hearing distinct echoes, the minimum distance of the obstacle from the source of sound must be half of this distance, that is, 17.2 m. This distance will change with the temperature of air. Echoes may be heard more than once due to successive or multiple reflections. The rolling of thunder is due to the successive reflections of the sound from a number of reflecting surfaces, such as the clouds and the land.



A sound created in a big hall will persist by repeated reflection from the walls until it is reduced to a value where it is no longer audible. The repeated reflection that results in this persistence of sound is called reverberation. In an auditorium or big hall excessive reverberation is highly undesirable. To reduce reverberation, the roof and walls of the auditorium are generally covered with sound-absorbent materials like compressed fibreboard, rough plaster or draperies. The seat materials are also selected on the basis of their sound absorbing properties.


A person clapped his hands near a cliff and heard the echo after 5 s. What is the distance of the cliff from the person if the speed of the sound, v is taken as 346 m s–1?

Speed of sound, v = 346 m s–1
Time taken for hearing the echo,
t = 5 s
Distance travelled by the sound
= v × t = 346 m s–1 × 5 s = 1730 m
In 5 s sound has to travel twice the distance between the cliff and the person. Hence, the distance between the cliff and the person
= 1730 m/2 = 865 m.



1. An echo returned in 3 s. What is the distance of the reflecting surface from the source, given that the speed of sound is
    342 m s–1?


Uses of multiple reflection of sound

Megaphones or loudhailers, horns, musical instruments such as trumpets and shehanais, are all designed to send sound in a particular direction without spreading it in all directions, In these instruments, a tube followed by a conical opening reflects sound successively to guide most of the sound waves from the source in the forward direction towards the audience.

Stethoscope is a medical instrument used for listening to sounds produced within the body, chiefly in the heart or lungs. In stethoscopes the sound of the patient’s heartbeat reaches the doctor’s ears by multiple reflection of sound,

Generally the ceilings of concert halls, conference halls and cinema halls are curved so that sound after reflection reaches all corners of the hall, Sometimes a curved soundboard may be placed behind the stage so that the sound, after reflecting from the sound board, spreads evenly across the width of the hall


Range of Hearing

The audible range of sound for human beings extends from about 20 Hz to 20000 Hz (one Hz = one cycle/s). Children under the age of five and some animals, such as dogs can hear up to 25 kHz (1 kHz = 1000 Hz). As people grow older their ears become less sensitive to higher frequencies. Sounds of frequencies below 20 Hz are called infrasonic sound or infrasound. If we could hear infrasound we would hear the vibrations of a pendulum just as we hear the vibrations of the wings of a bee. Rhinoceroses communicate using infrasound of frequency as low as 5 Hz. Whales and elephants produce sound in the infrasound range. It is observed that some animals get disturbed before earthquakes. Earthquakes produce low-frequency infrasound before the main shock waves begin which possibly alert the animals. Frequencies higher than 20 kHz are called ultrasonic sound or ultrasound. Ultrasound is produced by dolphins, bats and porpoises. Moths of certain families have very sensitive hearing equipment. These moths can hear the high frequency squeaks of the bat and know when a bat is flying nearby, and are able to escape capture. Rats also play games by producing ultrasound.


1. What is the audible range of the
average human ear?
2. What is the range of frequencies
associated with
(a) Infrasound?
(b) Ultrasound?


 Applications of Ultrasound

Ultrasounds are high frequency waves. Ultrasounds are able to travel along welldefined paths even in the presence of obstacles. Ultrasounds are used extensively in industries and for medical purposes.

• Ultrasound is generally used to clean parts located in hard-to-reach places, for example, spiral tube, odd shaped parts, electronic components etc. Objects to be cleaned are placed in a cleaning solution and ultrasonic waves are sent into the solution. Due to the high frequency, the particles of dust, grease and dirt get detached and drop out. The objects thus get thoroughly cleaned.
• Ultrasounds can be used to detect cracks and flaws in metal blocks. Metallic components are generally used in construction of big structures like buildings, bridges, machines and also scientific equipment. The cracks or holes inside the metal blocks, which are invisible from outside reduces the strength of the structure. Ultrasonic waves are allowed to pass through the metal block and detectors are used to detect the transmitted waves. If there is even a small defect, the ultrasound gets reflected back indicating the presence of the flaw or defect, as shown in Fig



Ordinary sound of longer wavelengths cannot be used for such purpose as it will bend around the corners of the defective location and enter the detector

• Ultrasonic waves are made to reflect from various parts of the heart and form the image of the heart. This technique is called ‘echocardiography’.
• Ultrasound scanner is an instrument which uses ultrasonic waves for getting images of internal organs of the human body. A doctor may image the patient’s organs such as the liver, gall bladder, uterus, kidney, etc. It helps the doctor to detect abnormalities, such as stones in the gall bladder and kidney or tumours in different organs. In this technique the ultrasonic waves travel through the tissues of the body and get reflected from a region where there is a change of tissue density. These waves are then converted into electrical signals that are used to generate images of the organ. These images are then displayed on a monitor or printed on a film. This technique is called ‘ultrasonography’. Ultrasonography is also used for examination of the foetus during pregnancy to detect congenial defects and growth abnormalities.
• Ultrasound may be employed to break small ‘stones’ formed in the kidneys into fine grains. These grains later get flushed out with urine.


The acronym SONAR stands for SOund Navigation And Ranging. Sonar is a device that uses ultrasonic waves to measure the distance, direction and speed of underwater objects. How does the sonar work? Sonar consists of a transmitter and a detector and is installed in a boat or a ship, as shown in Fig.



The transmitter produces and transmits ultrasonic waves. These waves travel through water and after striking the object on the
seabed, get reflected back and are sensed by the detector. The detector converts the ultrasonic waves into electrical signals which are appropriately interpreted. The distance of the object that reflected the sound wave can be calculated by knowing the speed of sound in water and the time interval between transmission and reception of the ultrasound. Let the time interval between transmission and reception of ultrasound signal be t and the speed of sound through seawater be v. The total distance, 2d travelled by the ultrasound is then, 2d = v × t.

The above method is called echo-ranging. The sonar technique is used to determine the depth of the sea and to locate underwater hills, valleys, submarine, icebergs, sunken ship etc.


A ship sends out ultrasound that returns from the seabed and is detected after 3.42 s. If the speed of ultrasound through seawater is
1531 m/s, what is the distance of the
seabed from the ship?
Solution:   Given, Time between transmission and
detection, t = 3.42 s.Speed of ultrasound in sea water, v = 1531 m/s
Distance travelled by the ultrasound = 2 × depth of the sea = 2d
where d is the depth of the sea.
2d = speed of sound × time = 1531 m/s × 3.42 s = 5236 m
                                            d = 5236 m/2 = 2618 m.
Thus, the distance of the seabed from the ship is 2618 m or 2.62 km.


Structure of Human Ear

How do we hear? We are able to hear with the help of an extremely sensitive device called the ear. It allows us to convert pressure variations in air with audible frequencies into electric signals that travel to the brain via the auditory nerve. The auditory aspect of human ear is discussed below.



The outer ear is called ‘pinna’. It collects the sound from the surroundings. The collected sound passes through the auditory canal. At the end of the auditory canal there is a thin membrane called the ear drum or tympanic membrane. When a compression of the medium reaches the eardrum the pressure on the outside of the membrane increases and forces the eardrum inward. Similarly, the eardrum moves outward when a rarefaction reaches it. In this way the eardrum vibrates. The vibrations are amplified several times by three bones (the hammer, anvil and stirrup) in the middle ear. The middle ear transmits the amplified pressure variations received from the sound wave to the inner ear. In the inner ear, the pressure variations are turned into electrical signals by the cochlea. These electrical signals are sent to the brain via the auditory nerve, and the brain interprets them as sound.


What you have learnt

• Sound is produced due to vibration of different objects.
• Sound travels as a longitudinal wave through a material medium.
• Sound travels as successive compressions and rarefactions in the medium.
• In sound propagation, it is the energy of the sound that travels and not the particles of the medium.
• Sound cannot travel in vacuum.
• The change in density from one maximum value to the minimum value and again to the maximum value makes one complete oscillation.
• The distance between two consecutive compressions or two consecutive rarefactions is called the wavelength, λ.
• The time taken by the wave for one complete oscillation of the density or pressure of the medium is called the time period, T.
• The number of complete oscillations per unit time is called the frequency (ν),1/T
.• The speed v, frequency ν, and wavelength λ, of sound are related by the equation, v = λν.
• The speed of sound depends primarily on the nature and the temperature of the transmitting medium.
• The law of reflection of sound states that the directions in which the sound is incident and reflected make equal angles with
the normal to the reflecting surface at the point of incidence and the three lie in the same plane.
• For hearing a distinct sound, the time interval between the original sound and the reflected one must be at least 0.1 s.
• The persistence of sound in an auditorium is the result of repeated reflections of sound and is called reverberation.
• Sound properties such as pitch, loudness and quality are determined by the corresponding wave properties.
• Loudness is a physiological response of the ear to the intensity of sound.
• The amount of sound energy passing each second through unit area is called the intensity of sound.
• The audible range of hearing for average human beings is in the frequency range of 20 Hz – 20 kHz.
• Sound waves with frequencies below the audible range are termed “infrasonic” and those above the audible range are
termed “ultrasonic”.
• Ultrasound has many medical and industrial applications.
• The SONAR technique is used to determine the depth of the sea and to locate under water hills, valleys, submarines, icebergs, sunken ships etc.

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