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Does sound generate any heat? © Getty Images

Does sound generate heat?

Published: 30th August, 2021 at 11:00
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Professor Jon Butterworth explains how your soundwaves always create heat.

Yes, sound can generate heat. In fact, it practically always does, though the amount is generally too small to notice.

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Sound and heat are different kinds of motion of atoms or molecules. Sound is an orderly motion, while heat is randomised. If atoms are squeezed close together at some point (maybe by a loudspeaker), they’ll bounce away from each other and, in turn, squeeze nearby atoms together. This leads to a wave of high-density peaks and low-density troughs, which we perceive as sound. As the wave travels, or hits objects, this orderly motion is disrupted and randomised, becoming heat.

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Asked by: Jenni Chater, Bournemouth

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Authors

Jon is a Professor of Physics at University College London. He works on the ATLAS experiment at the CERN Large Hadron Collider.

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