INSPIRING & MOTIVATING FUTURE

ACOUSTICIANS

AMAZING WOMEN IN ACOUSTICS

Vicky Stewart - July 2019

Vicky has worked as an acoustic consultant at Atkins, member of the SNC-Lavalin group, since 2001. Her work involves predicting whether a new development, such as a road or railway, could affect the sound inside homes and gardens, schools, hospitals and public spaces.

Vicky loves that her job involves working with others to solve problems that affect people’s lives.

In addition, Vicky is the National STEM Coordinator for Atkins, and in 2016 she was given the Institute of Acoustics Award for Promoting Acoustics to the Public as well as being listed as being one of the Top 50 Women in Engineering, that same year. This year Vicky has been shortlisted as one of the UK Construction Week Role Models 2019.

How did you first become interested in acoustics?

I certainly didn’t know what an acoustic consultant did when I was at school. With an interest in music and good grades in maths and physics, I had no idea about the types of jobs which were available to me, so I was drawn towards the music industry (acoustics’ much louder more outwardly glamorous friend). However, acoustics won in the end, as I couldn't resist the allure of the anechoic chamber at the University of Salford open day. I didn’t know what it was used for, but knew that I wanted to know more.

I really enjoyed acoustics, but I hadn’t worked out what I could do with it and although a placement year wasn’t required as part of the course, I jumped at the opportunity to come to Atkins.

How would you explain your field to young girls?

Sound is so important in all of our lives. If the sound of a nearby road is too loud at home we may not be able to sleep, whereas if an announcement at a train station is too quiet we may miss a train. It’s all about the right sound for the right situation; for example a space designed for audiences that is suitable for music is unlikely to be suitable for speech.

I love my job in acoustics. I use maths, science and technology to investigate sound related problems for clients, such as construction sites, roads and railways. On each project I am in a team of environmental specialists, and we work together to make the project better for the environment and the people that live nearby.

What are some really cool things that people in your profession work on?

Although being involved in the design of concert halls in undoubtedly cool, I think that acousticians can do some really clever stuff in spaces such as in open plan office buildings to improve privacy and train stations to ensure that everyone can hear an alarm in an emergency. With more and more people expected to live in cities going forward, how the spaces we use to work, learn, relax and have fun sound is more important than ever before.

What has been your most challenging experience working as an acoustician?

I started being a STEM Coordinator at Atkins because I knew we needed to do something and nobody was doing it, so gave it a go. It was one of the best things I ever did, and has taken me to places and given me skills and confidence that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.

If you see that a job needs doing and no one is stepping forward, go for it! Make your mark and change things for the better.

Any interesting forthcoming project? What’s next for your career?

I’m going to see what happens.

Philippa Demonte - June 2019

Philippa is currently doing a PhD in Acoustics and Audio Engineering at the University of Salford near Manchester. Her research is investigating ways in which a new approach to sound engineering, called object-based audio, could be manipulated to improve speech intelligibility, particularly in broadcasting.

Philippa’s journey to this point has been somewhat unconventional. She originally studied for a degree in Linguistics and Modern Languages (Norwegian and German) before working for a decade in the music business doing international marketing and promotions. When the worldwide recession hit in 2007, she decided on a career change towards volcano monitoring, and returned to university to study Geophysics. Many adventures in exotic locations ensued. A serendipitous Tweet in late-2016 finally steered Philippa to her current research position, allowing her to make use of the skills and acoustics-based knowledge acquired from her previous studies.

Philippa is an eager promoter of STEM subjects and gender equality through social media and events, including participation in ‘I’m a Scientist: Get me out of here!’ and the Big Bang Fair.

In her spare time she enjoys Zumba, hiking, and going to music concerts.

How did you first become interested in acoustics?

During my first degree, the university gave me permission to take an electro-acoustic music composition class as an alternative to writing a dissertation (final year project) or language translation. This involved recording naturally-occurring sounds and manipulating them with computer software programmes, sound mixer desks, and loudspeakers. For me, it was (still is!) fun to play with sounds! Now I can see the parallels with the decision making and set-ups for the listening experiments that I run for my current research.

How would you explain your field to young girls?

Basically, I am interested in sound. Jude Brereton’s description (see below) is the perfect explanation of what acoustics is about overall. Acoustics is such a broad topic though that what may be ‘noise’ to me is another acoustician’s treasure.

The particular field of acoustics that I am currently doing research in is called psycho-acoustics, which is the study of how we perceive the world around us through the sense of sound. This involves not just our ears, but also the brain: in a split second the mind has to sort through all the different sounds around us, use our memory to identify them, and determine which of these to pay attention to.

Whilst studying geophysics, my previous research was in a completely different area of acoustics known collectively as enviro-acoustics. I was involved in detecting eruptive activity at volcanoes and geysers by monitoring their seismo-acoustic (sounds through the ground) and aero-acoustic (sounds through the atmosphere) emissions.

What are some really cool things that people in your profession work on?

Within psycho-acoustics, I am particularly interested in speech intelligibility, which is the amount of spoken dialogue that a listener can understand, and how we can manipulate sounds to improve it.

Taking broadcast audio as an example, currently the only way that we, the end-users, can manipulate the sound of a tv or radio programme is to turn the overall level up or down. This is not helpful for speech intelligibility, as this action also turns up the volume of the background noise such as music, sound effects, and atmosphere.

In the not-too-distant future it will be possible for end-users to: adjust the level of individual sound elements; spatially separate the sound elements, even if listening to the audio via headphones; create more immersive sound experiences by adding in more loudspeakers, which in the home can include mobile phones, laptops, tablets, and smart speakers. This will be thanks to research and development currently being conducted into a new approach called object-based audio (OBA).

In addition to applications in broadcasting and cinema, the OBA approach is now also being developed for live sound settings, such as in concert arenas and theatres, in conjunction with developments in PA (loudspeaker) design and room acoustics.

As for the enviro-acoustics monitoring at volcanoes, this continues to save lives. Increases in unrest detected with seismo-acoustic monitoring and the occurrence of explosive eruptions detected with aero-acoustic monitoring allow volcano observatories to issue timely notices to the relevant authorities for local evacuations and diversions of aircraft away from volcanic ash plumes.

What has been your most challenging experience working as an acoustician?

For me personally, my biggest challenge has been my lack of relevant Maths knowledge. Although I took A’Level Physics at school, no-one ever advised me to take either A’Level Maths or A’Level Statistics, and either of these would have been so useful now! So, if you are still in school, take Maths!

Switching from enviro-acoustics to psycho-acoustics was also a challenge for me, but in a very positive way. It has been fascinating learning about such diverse topics ranging from psychology and neurology to audio engineering and room acoustics.

Any interesting forthcoming project? What’s next for your career?

All being well, I should be completing my PhD sometime around mid-2020, and then who knows? The great thing about having knowledge and contacts in two different areas of acoustics is that this opens up yet more opportunities for me.

Maria A. Heckl - April 2019

I grew up in southern Germany (near Munich) and graduated in Physics at the Technical University in Berlin. I completed my PhD on "Heat sources in acoustic resonators" in at the University of Cambridge. My current position is Professor of Engineering Mathematics in the School of Chemical and Physical Sciences of Keele University, UK. I am also the President-Elect of the International Institute of Acoustics and Vibration (IIAV).

I feel strongly about supporting women in STEM. During the four-year period 2012-2016, I coordinated the FP7-funded ITN TANGO (http://www.scm.keele.ac.uk/Tango/), which had a gender-balanced team of supervisors for 15 Marie Curie fellows (4 female, 11 male). The project was at the very hard end of the STEM sciences, predominantly mechanical engineering and physics. Our aim was to develop green combustion technologies and noise control methods through a combination of fundamental and applied research.

I am married to a biologist. In my spare time, I like to do gardening, ballet, baking and photography.

How did you first become interested in acoustics?

I was encouraged by my (male) physics teacher to study physics at university. During my time as physics undergraduate, I got involved in a project producing video animations of sound waves and sound-structure interactions. I found the wave images I produced very attractive (I am a very visual person), and I decided that physical acoustics was the topic for my career.

How would you explain your field to young girls?

Physical acoustics is about understanding how sound is generated (e.g. by a musical instrument or by a rocket taking off) and how sound interacts with other physical phenomena (e.g. vibrating structures, flames, vortices). With detailed understanding of the physical mechanisms, it is possible to enhance pleasant sounds, to control damaging sounds and to exploit sound for diagnostic purposes.

What are some really cool things that people in your profession work on?

Performing research is like doing detective work: you have a few clues, you have a hypothesis, and you try to get further evidence (e.g. by experiments or simulations) to build up a more complete picture.

In my profession, we perform research into excessive noise accompanying combustion. Even though combustion is hot, this is a really cool topic because there are still many open questions waiting to be explored. The current lack of understanding is holding up the development of low-pollution combustion systems. I feel deep satisfaction that through my research I do my bit to save the planet.

What has been your most challenging experience working as an acoustician?

One of my biggest challenges was coping with the embarrassment I experienced when I demonstrated the sound from a flame in a tube (organ pipe) at a large conference. Unbeknownst to me, the conference room was fitted with sensitive smoke detectors, and as a result, I had inadvertently triggered a fire alarm with my flame. The whole building was evacuated, and even the fire brigade turned up. I have learned my lesson from this: now I always check whether smoke detectors are present before I demonstrate the interaction between sound and flames.

Any interesting forthcoming project? What’s next for your career?

My career has probably reached its climax, and I don't foresee any big changes. I have just started to coordinate a new ITN project, funded by Horizon 2020, on acoustic phenomena linked to hydrogen combustion. This will fund 15 PhD students (Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellows), spread over 6 European countries (UK, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Belgium and Netherlands). The project is called POLKA, which stands for POLlution Knowhow and Abatement. Our mission is to develop hydrogen combustion technologies for pollution reduction in a gender-balanced, multi-disciplinary network with academic and industrial collaboration, while also training highly skilled scientists of the future.

Sara Girón - March 2019

Sara Girón is a Professor at the University of Seville, and one of the heads of the Acoustic research group of the High School of Architecture. Her impressive trajectory in acoustics of heritage buildings began in the 90s, going through the acoustic analysis of theatres, catholic churches and cathedrals, and, in the project that she currently leads, Roman theatres.

Her strong background in Physics in combination with the fact that Sara has been working surrounded by architects for more than 30 years makes her having the perfect profile to work with this type of buildings. Sara takes advantage of her strong personality in favour of the achievement of equal roles for men and women within the construction world, and always takes the chance of passing this principle on to each of her students.

How did you first become interested in acoustics?

My interest in Acoustics goes back to the years when I started teaching Building Physics to architecture students: physical acoustics, psychoacoustics and architectural acoustics. I understood that it was an emerging discipline and that it would allow me to be part of a multidisciplinary team collaborating with professors and researchers from other areas of the architectural field.

How would you explain your field to young girls?

My field focuses on the study of applied acoustics to enclosures of great cultural value, for performance use (theatres, auditoriums) or religious (churches, cathedrals). Knowledge of the distribution of sound energy in closed or semi-open spaces, such as open-air Roman theatres, requires a large experimental campaign and subsequent processing, analysis and interpretation of empirical data in the laboratory. This knowledge allows ephemeral or permanent adaptations to achieve the acoustic comfort of the users in the use to which they are intended, or simply to preserve the sound field of the architectural space studied.

What are some really cool things that people in your profession work on?

Acoustic and visual virtual reconstructions of disappeared buildings according to their historical or archaeological information and using the musical and choral pieces of interpretation of their time.

What has been your most challenging experience working as an acoustician?

I will highlight several milestones: the publication of our first article in room acoustics; difficulties to obtain an appropriate signal-to-noise ratio in some churches; difficulties for the movement of cables and microphones in the bleachers of the proscenium theatres with sometimes of up to 4 floors; and repetition of numerous measurements in the cathedral of Cordoba in night period due to large air currents and distortion of the signals.

Any interesting forthcoming project? What’s next for your career?

To implement reliable auralisations of the Roman theatres and its immersion in Virtual Reality environments. I would also like to research the amazing acoustic properties of the Ancient Roman Amphitheatres, there are in Spain several well preserved examples worthy of being investigated.

Jude Brereton - January 2019

Jude Brereton is a Senior Lecturer in Audio and Music Technology, in the Department of Electronic Engineering at the University of York. Her brilliant doctoral research (completed in 2014) investigated human interaction with spatial sound – centring on the ‘Virtual Singing Studio’, designed as a means to explore how musical performance changes in different acoustic environments. It is worthy to mention that, in 2008, Jude was winner of the British Voice Association Van Lawrence Prize for Voice Research.

Jude has over 25 years’ experience as an arts and events project manager, leading a number of performances, events and projects which encourage arts and science/engineering collaboration. Having a strong background in engineering and music, as well as being a singer and orchestral musician, makes her perfect for this role.

In 2013 Jude founded the Electronic Engineering Department’s Equality and Diversity Committee, which she chaired until 2017; during that time she lead the department to gain an Athena SWAN bronze award for its commitment to gender equality. She is still committed to improving gender equality in HE in general, and in music technology in particular, and often gives keynote presentations on the subject. To give just an example, she gave a very inspiring keynote presentation on gender balance in audio at DAFx2017.

How did you first become interested in acoustics?

I was really musical from a very young age, but it’s difficult to remember when I first became aware of an interest in acoustics. As a teenager I sang and played a variety of music in a wide variety of venues – churches, cathedrals, school halls, old people’s homes, concert venues, outside… at that age I remember thinking that some venues were ‘easier’ to play/sing in than others. My father was a maths teacher and also a musician, and as such I think he passed on to me his interest of the maths inherent in music. I do remember quite clearly at about the age of 16 on a trip to London browsing a large bookshop and coming across Jamie Angus and David Howard’s book ‘Acoustics and Psychoacoustics’, picking it up and becoming really fascinated by the science and knowledge in there – stuff that I’d never really come across at school.

It wasn’t in anyway a straight line between school and what I do now though. Aged 18 I really really wanted to be a professional musician – so I went to the University of York to study Music, specialising in Early Music (music written before 1750). Sadly I had to give up my music studies after one year due to a repetitive strain injury. So I switched to Linguistic Science (I had studied languages at A level) and from there developed a fascination with acoustic phonetics, the acoustics of the spoken and singing voice, and now the interaction between singers and room acoustics and how that effects what we perform and what our audiences perceive.

How would you explain your field to young girls?

A fantastic mix of art and science, maths and music, objective and subjective combined, creative curious problem solving based on measurement, analysis and rigorous scientific research. Often the large role that sound and acoustics play in our day to day lives is overlooked, and we only really think about them if there’s a problem (noise pollution or problems, or a particularly badly designed classroom where it’s hard to understand speech) – but studying room acoustics and musical performance opens your eyes, and your ears, not only to the carefully designed sounds of concert venues and concert halls, but also to understand the beneficial effect that good acoustic design can have on our everyday.

What are some really cool things that people in your profession work on?

There are SO many things that academics who focus on sound and acoustics get to work on – I can’t possibly list them all, but they would include amazing things like: sound design for TV and films, researching how musicians blend in an ensemble, using sound for feedback which can help those who are visually impaired, using sound to explore data (using ears rather than eyes), working on developing future virtual reality technologies including surround sound, recording the acoustic ‘fingerprint’ of fantastic and unusual spaces to learn more about our past relationship with sound which can inform how we design buildings in the future, designing an auditory feedback tool to help chemistry researchers design better drugs….the list really goes on and on

What has been your most challenging experience working as an acoustician?

There are often practical challenges when trying to measure room acoustics – I worked with the amazing Aglaia Foteinou during my PhD research to record the acoustics of the National Centre for Early Music here in York. We wanted to do lots of recordings in different locations around the space. We worked out quite quickly that neither of us was actually tall enough to carry the loudspeaker between the different positions and it was going to take us much much longer than the time available if we had to dismantle every time. So… reluctantly, because we wanted to be able to manage on our own, we asked for help from some taller! colleagues/friends… In the end it was actually loads more fun working as a bigger team, we bought them pizza and everyone was happy.

Any interesting forthcoming project? What’s next for your career?

In terms of career I’m focussed on teaching more than research, but I like to get involved with research projects as much as I can. I have a long-term collaborative project with professional singer and academic Dr Helena Daffern, composer Prof Ambrose Field and York based choir the Ebor Singers. It’s called Architexture, (https://architextureimmersive.wordpress.com/about/) and centres on a series of compositions specifically tailored to singers in a particular acoustic space – the next piece (number 3) is looking at how we can incorporate a virtual acoustic space and present this to performers and audience using virtual reality or augmented reality technology. There are so many research questions to investigate there and I’m privileged to be working with such fantastic colleagues on this project.

Coming up soon in the summer I’m thrilled to say that I’ll be one of the keynote speakers at ICAD (International Conference on Auditory Display - https://icad2019.icad.org/) , which is one of the most gender balanced conferences I’ve ever attended. They work really hard on inclusivity and accessibility – it’s an interdisciplinary conference too which means that it’s a really diverse and stimulating event.

Carolina Monteiro - December 2018

Carolina hold a PhD in building acoustics and sustainable construction and is an experienced researcher in the field of environmental noise and smart cities. With a background in Architecture, she focused on Acoustics and Vibration Engineering through a Master’s Degree

Carolina is now R&D Lead in an acoustic consultancy in Brazil, with a broad work experience, urban sound planning and architectural and construction administration services, which she has developed in a number of countries. Since 2013, she also is the representative of the EAA Young Acousticians Network, an ideal role for her, thanks to her energetic personality.

One more thing to highlight about Carolina is that she is an active supporter of gender equality and women's empowerment through social media and public events.

How did you first become interested in acoustics?

As I’ve noticed that has happened to many other acousticians, Acoustics has entered my life by chance. As an architect I was interested in many fields of research after graduating. In 2009 I was awarded with a Spanish MAEC scholarship for joining a master’s degree in Spain, but the program I’ve chosen wouldn’t be held that year. So, there were two options: decline the scholarship or choosing another master program to apply. Ta-da: Acoustics Engineering seemed to be an innovative option and I decided to dive in.

How would you explain your field to young girls?

Sound is everywhere! Acoustics tries to balance technical and humanistic point of views to deliver sound balance in our lives. Sound can be good or bad. And what we look for in this profession is to enhance it when it is good, and fight it when it is bad, always looking for human and environment well-being.

What are some really cool things that people in your profession work on?

It is an exciting work area because it allows you to have contact with professionals from diverse backgrounds and to balance theoretical and practical work. There are unlimited possibilities when working with acoustics: it is possible to develop ways to protect people health by building acoustics solution or a better urban sound planning, create acoustic materials that defy classic physics concepts, discover how an old church or cave sounded like in the past, and listen to it as if we were there, make a music show sound as the best experience ever.

What has been your most challenging experience working as an acoustician?

My first challenge was being an architect in an engineering/physics world. But the real challenge was doing my PhD. During four long years, I have had to go deep in my Acoustics knowledge, participated in international research projects, discovered new fields of knowledge, faced the challenge of publishing in referred journals. But above all, I’ve had the opportunity to enjoy collaborating with more acousticians and become more passionate about Acoustics than before!

Any interesting forthcoming project? What’s next for your career?

Right now, I am R&D Lead at a Brazilian Acoustics consultancy and my plans are to consolidate this area in my company with relevant activities as well as keep collaborating with international research projects.

Teresa Fernandez Espejo - November 2018

Teresa joined Brekke & Strand akustikk AS (Oslo, Norway) in 2011 as acoustic consultant. Although noise and vibrations is her main field of expertise, she is also in charge of the Acoustical Instrumentation department.

Teresa has a deep background in engineering (University of Malaga) and architectural acoustics (Master’s Degree at the University of Granada), and she can speak 5 languages!

This animal lover and inveterate traveler is always looking for new experiences and challenges.

How did you first become interested in acoustics?

I actually didn’t know what to study and I cannot say I was inspired by someone. The only thing I knew was that I wanted to study something related to numbers or physics. I decided to study telecommunications engineering and a friend talked me about a specialisation called Sound and Image. We both thought that it could be interesting and we decided to enroll in it. I did my final project about loudspeakers and I had the opportunity to do lab tests in an anechoic chamber. It was then when I realised I wanted to be an acoustician and I decided to go further with a Master in Architectural Acoustics.

How would you explain your field to young girls?

After my studies I have worked into different companies as an acoustic consultant. In my case I have had the opportunity to work with many different kind of projects and this is actually what I like most about my career, the diversity and variety of it. Projects can differ from schools, concert halls, offices, airports, and dwellings, to infrastructure like new roads or railway lines. Sometimes are more specific solutions for noise control in the industrial sector. Acousticians worked together with architects, constructors and designers in the very first stage of the project and once the project is build we have the opportunity to test it. It is actually in the control and testing phase where we face reality and where I consider I learn most. What you learn in the field provides you with experience to know which solution will be suitable for future projects.

What are some really cool things that people in your profession work on?

I think I probably have had more fun during field work, doing measurements. My actual job give me the opportunity to do many different kind of measurements. In my previous work I did scale model tests for future concert halls. Concert halls were recreate in a 1/10th scale where we tested different room acoustics parameters. We performed room acoustic tests in a perfect design 1/10th concert hall. We used special equipment that reproduce wavelengths that are 1/10th of the sound waves in actual concerts hall. I think those were probably be coolest measurements I have done.

I also enjoy measuring outdoors, as in the picture. Every year we measure noise from tramways and metro lines in Oslo. We measure every passing tramway/metro in different positions over the city and try to define its sound and anomalies. We work in collaboration with Sporveien (a municipally owned public transport operator). Very often we measure sound and vibration from trams and metros at people's homes, both indoors and outdoors. These measurements give me the opportunity to talk with people and to hear how they experience traffic noise and the differences they experience during the different seasons of the year.

What has been your most challenging experience working as an acoustician?

Arriving to a new country for work and to deal with new laws and regulations was pretty challenging. In addition, I had to face a new completely way of construction and materials in a language I was not fluent at all. Sound is very subjective and it has something cultural also. We Spaniards like noise and it took me time to understand what actually noise comfort means for a Norwegian. They are much more demanding than us.

Any interesting forthcoming project? What’s next for your career?

There is a lot of focus right now in environmentally friendly solutions in Norway. More and more buildings now are being projected in accordance to BREEAM certification. Recently I have been working together with a colleague in a naturally ventilated building called Gullhaug Torg. The project is a 18 floor building with offices and dwellings. We are working to find the best facade isolation elements that fulfill the noise requirements and that permit the building to ventilate, cool and heat by itself without energy consumption. Pretty cool but also very challenging. Here is the link of the project:

https://snohetta.com/projects/269-gullhaug-torg#

Regarding the next move in my career I am not sure but I am always open to new possibilities. I like to try new things and challenge myself but, at the same time, Norway is treating me so well, so I will probably be here for a while. As I said, I found my job quite exciting every day so I normally never feel bored, and this make me feel that I don’t need a change right now.