Modal Phenomena
December 18, 2009 12:22 PM   Subscribe

Cymatics is the study of visible sound and vibration, typically on the surface of a plate, diaphragm, or membrane. Directly visualizing vibrations involves using sound to excite media often in the form of particles, pastes, and liquids. The apparatus employed can be simple, such as a Chladni Plate or advanced such as the CymaScope, a laboratory instrument that makes visible the inherent geometries within sound and music. Hans Jenny (1904-1972) is considered the father of cymatics.

Simulate cymatics on your computer. (java applet)

Enormous Cymatics shapes on Saturn? Part 1 · Part 2

Cymatics carvings in Rosslyn Chapel, Scotland?

Robert Hodgin of Flight404 experiments with black oil, cornstarch, and a webcam. flickr

Cymatics previously on MetaFilter.
posted by netbros (8 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

See also the unfortunately named Kundt's Tube
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 12:32 PM on December 18, 2009

Next post: Kirlian photography.
posted by clarknova at 12:41 PM on December 18, 2009

As an art form, and a way to illustrate the beauty and elegance of physics, cymatics is great. Unfortunately, the fucking hippies can't leave it at that, so we get meaningless drivel such as "Is there a connection between sound, vibrations and physical reality? Do sound and vibrations have the potential to create?"

It's not a science, and it's not research. It's just hippies making cool patterns in sand. Which is fine (heck, I think it's great), but it could really do without the pseudoscientific mumbo-jumbo.

Not knocking the post. Just the hippies.
posted by ixohoxi at 12:51 PM on December 18, 2009 [4 favorites]

Also, the patterns are, strictly speaking, an interaction between the plate, the materials on the plate, and the sound. Most importantly, the sound will bounce off the edges of the plate, just as it would echo off walls in a 3d space, creating beautiful interference patterns that change with the size and shape of the plate.

The kinds of sounds that are most interesting to look at cymatically speaking, most human listeners find extremely unmusical and irritating to listen to.
posted by idiopath at 1:01 PM on December 18, 2009

hmm, mere coincidence that today's Bob the Angry Flower mentions cymatics? I think not!
posted by scruss at 4:11 PM on December 18, 2009

Cool pictures. Thanks.
posted by blue shadows at 6:08 PM on December 18, 2009

Chladni plate singing
posted by moonmilk at 7:56 AM on December 19, 2009

Awesome stuff, I heartily enjoy any good means of visualizing waves, and come bearing tidings of joy and links.

Here's another java applet for simulating the vibrations on Chaldini plates.

RMCybernetics has a good overview of cymatics and a DIY Cymatics page that has some good video and research, as well as instructions for making a Chaldini plate with a piezo element. has some amazing pictures and an excellent guide to building a cymatics rig for photography.

One of the most interesting phenomenon for me is the oscillon. As Blaze Labs Research summarizes:

Many of the same patterns seen in the liquid version of Faraday's experiment are also seen in the granular material. These patterns are in fact the same phenomena observed on the chladni plates discussed earlier. At lower frequencies however, a new phenomena has been observed, that of localized structures called "oscillons". The granular version of this experiment is done at the University of Texas at Austin, and now also in several other places.

Oscillons can be seen in the image on the lower right of the photographs shown above. They resemble a splash of water in a puddle, but with one important difference: instead of spreading out, they slosh back and forth between a state that resembles a crater and a state that resembles a peak. When one oscillon in a crater state collides with an oscillon in the peak state, they can form a bound system, as shown in the image on the lower right.

Harry L Swinney at the Center for Nonlinear Dynamics is one of the faculty of UT-Austin mentioned and does lots of interesting work. Most of his papers are available on his page in pdf form.

For more information on this, The Emergence of Oscillons in Granular Media (pdf) will be a refreshing break from anyone annoyed by "The Fucking Hippies" as it is filled with maths and hard science (as well as pretty pictures). If that's still not enough to wash the taste of patchouli out of your mouth, check out the pre-print of Resonant nucleation of spatio-temporal order via parametric modal amplification (WITH VIDEO!)
posted by nTeleKy at 10:20 AM on December 21, 2009

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