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Crumpling Noise

August 22, 2006

A listener asks a question about the physics of an everyday thing: candy wrappers.


The movie theatre menace. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

[movie soundtrack interrupted by crumpling]

Shhh! It’s amazing how loud the crumple of a candy wrapper can be. Listener and movie lover Arthur Zatarain of Meterie, Louisiana, wants to know why, so we asked physicist Eric Kramer of Simon’s Rock College in Massachussetts. He says the answer is in the ridges the crumpler puts in the material being crumpled.

ERIC KRAMER (Simon’s Rock College):
You can think of each little bit of the bag that’s bordered by a set of ridges as a little drumhead. And each of those little drumheads can separately produce noise.

The cellophane in candy wrappers gets lots of ridges, and hence lots of drums. If you have a science question, call 1-800-why-isit. If we use it on the air, you’ll win a Science Update mug. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.