Careers in Acoustics

Many people have a vague feeling that acoustics is something to do with noise - perhaps in association with road traffic or the properties of their favourite concert hall.

In fact, acoustics is a wide ranging subject which has applications and job opportunities across the world in all industries.

Acousticians developed computers that can converse with you. Detecting the presence of an unborn child, improving the quality of a musical instrument or automatically identifying equipment by the sound they produce all use technologies developed by acousticians.

A career in acoustics can take you anywhere, through music, speech, medicine, engineering, physiology, mechanics, architecture or marine studies, to name but a few areas:



Here's just a few examples  ...

Environmental Noise

This includes the assessment of noise/vibration from a variety of sources, including wind farms, transportation, and industry including mines, quarries, landfills, process/manufacturing plants, power stations, petrochemical plants, and how it may affect adjoining residential/commercial areas. This embraces the measurement of background noise levels, prediction and assessment of potential impacts and the in-principle design of mitigation measures.

This area also includes the effects of ground vibration and over pressure from blasting.

AAS members design and supply dampers to reduce vibration in bridges and tall structures.  Our members also design and assess isolation systems which reduce vibration in buildings from large machinery, swimming pools and transportation.

Research

Universities and colleges of advanced education provide courses in acoustics and also undertake basic and applied research in many varied areas of the subject. Depending on the emphasis involved, the work may occur in Departments such as Physics, Electrical and Mechanical Engineering, Architecture, Music, Speech, Psychology and Medicine.

Often educational institutions include some acoustics within the subjects required for a Degree or Diploma, while many places offer post-graduate courses which will permit candidates to undertake research in aspects of acoustics. Such fundamental research may be funded by the Institution, through industrial sponsorship or from Commonwealth Grants.

Psychoacoustics, Physiological Acoustics, Bioacoustics

Psychoacoustics is part of the general subject of classical psychophysics, a branch of experimental psychology. A plethora of different and variable stimuli are used to quantify the perception of sounds. Because of the variability between subjects and within one subject for the same stimulus, results are obtained using signal detection theory and/or statistical analysis using repetitious measurements. Physiological acoustics may use the same stimuli and precisely defined measuring conditions as for psychoacoustics, but relates measured physiological responses to these stimuli. There is some overlapping of the two disciplines.

Practical directions of psychoacoustics include the determination of perceptual constraints of sound via hearing, and their application to the design and evaluation of enclosures for speech, music, sound recording; electro-acoustic design and transducers as for audio equipment, hearing aids, acoustic measuring equipment; in audiology and hearing conservation. Physiological acoustics has greatest application in medical diagnosis, physiology and audiology, and hearing conservation. Cochlear implants source the findings of both psychoacoustics and physiological acoustics.

Underwater Noise and Marine Bioacoustics

Detecting a submarine underwater, tracking schools of fish, determining the average temperature of large tracts of ocean to check on global warming are but a few applications of this expanding field. 

This includes measurements, numerical studies, theoretical studies and equipment development for all aspects of underwater acoustics. Examples include: sonar systems; arrays and imaging systems; acoustic communication systems; acoustic propagation; signal processing including inversion techniques, time-reversal acoustics and array processing; acoustic sources and receivers; scattering from surfaces and isolated objects; sound production and reception by marine animals; fisheries acoustics; physical, biological and anthropogenic noise; environmental impacts of underwater sound; and acoustic habitat classification.

AAS members also study how marine life communicate underwater and respond to external noise, e.g. the implications of shipping propeller noise on marine life around Australia's coastline.

AAS members also design and operate equipment which detects underwater sounds.  The underwater marine environment is incredibly complex and diverse.  The equipment and analyses used are very precise: they can differentiate between certain types of whales as they sing and where they are migrating.  Underwater microphone (hydrophone) arrays can detect and locate the use of nuclear weapons, and even monitor polar ice sheet collapses from the other side of the world.

Transportation

Acousticians are involved in the Noise Vibration and Harshness (NVH) design of road vehicles and aircraft for passenger comfort, as well as systems to reduce environmental noise emissions.

Environmental noise impacts from transportation are particularly significant and acousticians are involved in their study and management.  Recently this includes the consideration of drone noise, electric powertrain technology and autonomous vehicles that are changing the soundscape of our urban environments.

Image credit SLR Consulting Australia

Architectural and Building Acoustics

New and improved sound insulating materials are continually being included in modern architectural structures to produce quieter living environments and more pleasing concert halls and other entertainment venues.

AAS members are involved in the design of buildings of all types (commercial and residential buildings, concert halls, etc.). This includes advice and design of systems within buildings including mechanical services, noise assessment and control (such as air-conditioning, lifts, hydraulics, vibration and isolation of plant).

Image credit SLR Consulting Australia

AAS members also work with architects and engineers in the planning and construction of major assets from stadiums to hospitals, ports to highways. They help design music production facilities and performance spaces such as concert halls, office workplaces to reduce distraction and improve productivity, and hospital wards for well-being and to increase rates of recovery.

Acoustical Measurement and Instrumentation

Transducers are devices for converting energy form one form to another, acoustic waves to electrical signals as for microphones, electrical signals to sound waves as for loudspeakers. The scientific bases of psychoacoustics, physics and engineering are applied in the design of electronic and electro/mechanical equipment that interface, process and analyse sound waves from infrasonic to ultrasonic frequencies.

Practical applications to the design of audio equipment are transducers such as signal shaping filters. Electro-acoustics covers also the design of hearing measuring equipment, hearing aids, sound level meters, and acoustic measuring and analysing equipment. This wide ranging technology has enabled measurement and analysis of sound and vibration in all of its known configurations, with application to science, research, health, safety, medicine, underwater acoustics, and in consulting work.

AAS members build active sensing systems which track objects by the noise they make, and research and develop products which sense and monitor the condition of machinery and/or reduce noise. These products monitor acoustic 'signatures' to detect faults and wear in materials and machinery just by listening to them.

Speech Production, Perception and Speech Processing

Speech sounds are basic to communication. Its patterns constantly vary in frequency, intensity and time, and are rich in information. Science and applied science yield quantification by measurement of its production, perception and processing in the application of technology to prostheses such as cochlear implants, hearing aids, also in speech synthesis, acoustic analysis and spectrograms, speech recognition and the growing technology of artificially produced speech.

Measurement techniques have application to language, forensics, medical diagnoses as well as for the neurologist and psycho-neurologist in brain function. Speech protocols and phonetics have wide application in audiology. Applied physics has assessed the vocal tract. Professionals in science, psychology, physiology, medicine, linguistics, engineering and acoustics find application in this fruitful branch of acoustics.

Some applications involve measurements of speech intelligibility in highly reverberant spaces such as tunnels to ensure emergency warning and information systems can be easily heard.

Image credit Derek Thompson, WSP

Industrial Noise and Vibration Control

AAS members design noise control solutions and develop management plans for large industrial facilities, construction sites and general industry.  This can be to control workplace noise levels to safe levels or to minimise the impact of industrial noise and vibration on the surrounding environment. 

This may involve the use of advanced tools and numerical code such as final element modelling, statistical energy analysis and real-time condition monitoring of plant and machinery. 

Image credit: Lee Brothers Fencing Group

The above links list current job opportunities and educational courses in acoustics.  Training in engineering and science disciplines usually provides the most solid educational background to understanding the principles of acoustics, however there are many acousticians practicing without such formal training.

Today, people working in acoustics can be found in Government laboratories, in hospitals, in the armed forces, in industry and educational institutions. You can do fundamental research, applied problem solving, consulting, teaching or some combination of these areas. The scope is wide and a future in acoustics is limited only by your personal drive and ambitions. So take up the challenge consider a career in acoustics!