Virginia Tech researchers are leveraging sound, music, and creative technologies to spark an interest in wave physics among secondary school students and recent high school graduates.
“I have never had a student who wasn’t interested in music,” said Marc Eaton, lead technical education teacher at Eastern Montgomery High School. “Some students are already interested in engineering and physics and some aren’t so much, but when you add the music, every student’s interest is piqued.”
For more than a year, Eaton has been bringing his classes to participate in the Building a Workforce for Wave Physics program that is a joint effort between Virginia Tech’s School of Performing Arts and the Virginia Tech National Security Institute and is hosted by the Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology.
“It’s a unique experience for them too,” Eaton said. “Some of the students will learn about wave physics a little bit in their physics or earth science classes, but I think the program does kind of put meaning to the kind of stuff that doesn’t seem to have meaning in the classroom.”
Led by Bradley Davis, assistant director of the Spectrum Dominance Division of the Virginia Tech National Security Institute, and Ivica Bukvik, a professor in the School of Performing Arts, the program reaches hundreds of students each year.
Waves result from monumental events that cause physical changes in the world. Wave physics studies these phenomena, and it is a particularly important field of study for those working in the defense field.
Created out of a three-year grant from the Department of Navy STEM Education and Workforce Program administered by the Office of Naval Research, the program shows students a series of demonstrations on topics such as spectral filtering harmonics, frequency modulation, and voice modulation, using songs from popular artists like Shakira, Pitbull, and T-Pain.
By exploring the interactive modules, students uncover key questions and, through collaborative discovery guided by the instructor, seek answers. The students are then able to use tools to practice what they have learned.
“It’s hands on for them,” said Justin Kerobo, a doctoral student in human-centered design and a researcher working on the project. “After our demonstrations, they get to play around with the tools to change what their favorite song sounds like or change their own voice so they sound like their favorite Pixar character.”
The students end their sessions by taking a survey about their experience that Kerobo said is moving the program forward.
“They’re learning from us but we also have to learn from them,” Kerobo said. “The point of this program is to get students interested in wave physics, so we have to take their experience into account. What did they understand or not understand? What did they like and what did they think was boring?”
With a growing shortage of national defense personnel with expertise in wave physics, Virginia Tech researchers hope the project will grow interest in the field of wave physics among students, and eventually grow the national defense workforce.
Lindsey Haugh for Virginia Tech