August 16 – Happy Birthday, Hans Jenny

Posted on August 16, 2015

Today we celebrate the Father of Cymatics.

Perhaps you are unfamiliar with cymatics. I read one definition of it that I liked: it is the study of “visual sound.”
Born in Switzerland on this date in 1904, Hans Jenny studied and took photos of the effects of sound vibrations on fluids, powders, and liquid paste.

He wrote, “This is not an unregulated chaos; it is a dynamic but ordered pattern.”

Can you believe the complex patterns created
by sound on water? So beautiful!
Of course, sound waves have been studied for centuries before Jenny lived. For example, Ernst Chladni studied the symmetrical forms created when plates covered with sand are set to vibrating with a violin bow – and he did it way back in the 1700s. Actually, at least a thousand years ago some tribes in Africa began “reading” the patterns of small grains on drumheads to foretell the future. Of course, the patterns didn't actually foretell the future, but it shows us that people have known about and enjoyed the patterns made by small particles on a vibrating surface for a long, long time.

Jenny's invention, the “tonoscope,” had a resonating chamber, a sort of membrane or drumhead on top of the chamber, and some way of introducing sound into the chamber. I read that Jenny was the first to suggest that this sort of device could someday help deaf people learn to speak.

  • Watch this cool video to enjoy the patterns of visual sound on sand, water, fire, electricity - it's amazing!
  • And here is a simple way to build your own tonoscope!

Also on this date:

Joe Miller's Joke Day

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