Summer Centered: Nathan Merrill '20 Learns the Science of Sound
The physics major is studying acoustics at an internationally renowned program in Aachen, Germany.
This summer, Nathan Merrill ’20 (they/them) is making some noise. With funding from the Marian E. Koshland Integrated Natural Sciences Center’s Summer Scholars program, the physics major is researching the physics of sound waves at the Institute for Technical Acoustics (ITA) in Aachen, Germany.
Merrill is working with a complicated dataset, gathered from a collection of microphones that were set up in several halls across Europe. By examining this data, they’re able to analyze soundwaves from different positions as they travel through space in order to learn more about a phenomenon known as the “seat dip effect.”
“This effect was first noticed in the 1960s and causes a significant amount of low-frequency damping on sound that has traveled over the top of seats,” they said. “We are using the new perspective the data collected gives us to try and confirm the cause of the effect and possibly develop even more insight into how this effect arises.”
Though Merrill primarily works independently to reach their own findings, there are plenty of figures at ITA — an international leader in the field of acoustics— who offer the rising senior guidance.
“I receive a lot of support from Ingo Witew, a member of the Institute for Technical Acoustics, who guides me through the process of doing research and gives me advice on what to peruse next,” said Merrill. “I do not have significant prior research experience, so this mentorship is very helpful.”
Engaging in the study of acoustics at ITA has been the perfect opportunity for Merrill to unite their extracurricular interests with their academic ones. They also have a passion for music, whether it’s playing their own compositions or crafting sound design for theater productions on campus.
“While doing that work, I have had a lot of exposure to many areas of acoustics, including room acoustics, speaker acoustics, and electroacoustics,” they said. “This summer opportunity has let me help to connect the academic work that I do with my other major interests.”
In addition to the in-depth look at acoustics that ITA has given them, Merrill’s summer experience has brought them to a totally new environment. In contrast to the small liberal arts atmosphere of Haverford, ITA is a school of RWTH Aachen University, a large, internationally populated university with a particular focus on engineering. And, academics aside, the experience is also culturally enriching.
“I have been living in Germany, which is definitely a new place for me,” they said. “I spent the spring semester studying abroad in Prague, so was able to extend my stint out of the country with this opportunity. It has been fun to live in two separate European cities back-to-back, giving me insight into their similarities and differences.”
Merrill’s summer has shown them the places and directions that their expertise in physics can take them going forward.
“I think this experience has helped me to understand which things I see as priorities in the world,” they said, “and has shown me the multitude of ways that I can connect my various interests.”
“Summer Centered” is a series exploring our students’ Center-funded summer work.