31 Aug 2012

OU Professor wins award for pioneering research into sound

Pioneering research into the way the ground is excited by sound, which has subsequently been used to develop a way of detecting buried landmines remotely, has helped an Open University Professor to win a medal.

Professor Keith Attenborough, Research Professor in Acoustics, has been nominated for a Silver Medal in Noise from the Acoustical Society of America (ASA). He will receive his medal from the ASA in Kansas City, in October, for his contributions to noise control materials, ground impedance, and outdoor noise propagation.

Professor Attenborough, who was amongst the first scientists to look at the physics of the interaction of airborne sound with the ground, has been working on the concepts behind the acoustic landmine detection method for more than twenty years. He said he hoped that the sound detection techniques will be used in the future to locate buried landmines and eventually help to save lives.

“This new technique detects the unusual seismic activity induced by airborne sound directly above a buried landmine, using either a geophone – which is used by geophysicists to measure ground layering with a seismic refraction test- or with a laser beam device.

Colleagues from the University of Mississippi in the USA tested the laser beam method in certain ‘blind’ trial areas provided by the US Army and found that the sound detection method located 98% of buried mines, whilst a team using current detection methods which involve ground penetrating radar, detected only 67%,” he said.

“My research on sound-to-ground coupling in Mississippi was supported financially by the US army Corps of Engineers and my more recent work on buried landmine detection was supported in the UK by the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory,” Professor Attenborough explained.

The medal also recognizes Professor Attenborough’s work on outdoor sound propagation, which, apart from a textbook published by Taylor and Francis in 2007 has recently resulted in a three year, £860,000 project, funded by the EPSRC, determining the agricultural ground structure using a loudspeaker and laser beam system to find out how easy it is to grow plants in different soils. Manchester University and Rothamstead Research near Harpenden, are also engaged on the project, which could benefit soil scientists, farmers and the agricultural community.

He is also involved in a £ 3.2 million three-year European Community funded project, HOSANNA, researching ways of altering the ground instead of building barriers between and beside road carriageways which are cheaper, lower, more environmentally friendly and more functional than existing high barriers.

Professor Attenborough added: “Over the years I have explored the technical areas that are important to the design of noise control materials and improving outdoor noise prediction, including fibrous and granular acoustic materials, the properties of porous grounds, the interaction of sound between air and ground surfaces, the propagation of sound in the atmosphere, and the effectiveness of noise barriers.

“I am delighted to have been awarded this medal. It is a great honour and I am really looking forward to going to Kansas City in October to receive it.”

Professor Attenborough, who is now semi-retired, is continuing to work on several ongoing research projects at The Open University. At the Institute of Acoustics, he works on educational activities ranging from a postgraduate Diploma in Acoustics and Noise Control to promoting a classroom kit which encourages school children to try out different methods of sound proofing their bedrooms for playing loud music.

Editor’s Notes
A photograph of Professor Attenborough is available together with photos of his sound detection work.

He joined the OU in 1970 and has authored or co-authored 200 publications and co-authored three books, including his most recent on “Predicting Outdoor Sound,”

Active in the affairs of the Acoustical Society of America (ASA), Professor Attenborough attended his first ASA meeting in 1972 and has given many contributed and invited papers. He has organized a number of special sessions at ASA meetings and gave a plenary paper at the joint ASA/International Congress on Acoustics meeting in Seattle. He is a Fellow of the ASA (1992) and, having been a Fellow of the Institute of Acoustics of the UK since 1982, was recently (2011) made an Honorary Fellow. He has been a long time member of the ASA Technical Committee on Noise with several terms and has been an Associate Editor for Noise of the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America.

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