Women’s innovative contributions to acoustics (Part II)

In Have you heard about her? Women’s innovative contributions to acoustics (Part I), we started off with a historical perspective, acknowledging Hedy Lamarr’s ground-breaking work in developing the frequency hopping spread spectrum, a technology still used in underwater acoustic communication and recognized as the foundation of WiFi, GPS and Bluetooth.

We also introduced distinguished acoustics researcher Bridget Shield, best known for her studies on the effects of noise on children, and Dame Ann Dowling, a British mechanical engineer lauded for her research in combustion, acoustics and vibration. While Shield retired in 2014 and Dowling last year, the women no doubt served as inspiring role models for younger generations. Here then, are six women currently at the peak of their careers.

Lily Wang

Professor & Associate Dean at the University of Nebraska College of Engineering, Lily Wang also served as president of the Acoustical Society of America (ASA). She specializes in room acoustics and noise control and loves encouraging young people to explore acoustics as a career.

Her substantial body of research includes a number of articles on variations in restaurant soundscapes. Chris Berdik’s January 2020 Popular Science article It’s not just you: Restaurants have gotten too loud. But there are some fixes addresses, among other issues, the problems inherent in restaurants that merge dining rooms with open kitchens and bar areas. “Architects aren’t trained to think about sound; they’re trained to think visually and spatially,” Wang states in the article. She is currently working with the ASA to establish guidelines for restaurants.

Mariana Lopez

Lopez is a Senior Lecturer in Sound Production and Post Production at University of York. A former Vice-chair of the Audio Engineering Society (UK Section), she passionately advocates for accessibility and gender equality within the acoustic industries.

An important link exists between accessibility and design practice, Lopez explains in her recent article Fostering inclusivity: The power of assistive music technology. “The concept of Universal Design stems from a desire to create products and environments free of usability barriers—treating accessibility as integral to their proper functioning.” she writes. “Universal Design champions the idea that products and environments designed to be accessible for people with disabilities will end up benefiting everyone. For example, a ramp might be initially designed to provide access to people using wheelchairs, but they can also benefit those carrying suitcases.”

Susan Witterick

In addition to her role as Director of dBx Acoustics, Witterick serves as an Ambassador with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). both an acronym and a UK-based organization in which volunteers encourage and inspire students interested in STEM career paths. These students are still predominantly male.

Witterick graduated in 1998 with a BSc (Hons) in Audio Technology, one of only three women in her year. She explores at length in a thought-provoking Medium article possible explanations for “why women still aren’t routinely considering STEM as a career path, and what can do —all of us—to change this.”

Poppy Szkiler

Szkiler’s grandfather, John Connell, founded the non-profit Noise Abatement Society in the UK, so it’s fair to say she came naturally by her interest In the Pursuit of Silence, also the title of an award-winning documentary film she co-produced.

Szkiler also runs Quiet Mark™, which awards “the International mark of approval for low-noise technology, services and solutions launched by the Noise Abatement Society in 2012 to create a stress-free aural environment in the home, at work and in public spaces.”

Quiet Mark™ achieves this through the following objectives:

  • Encourage manufacturers to factor in low-noise at design stage and provide them with a unique selling platform
  • Give consumers more informed purchasing choices
  • Raise awareness about the positive health and well-being implications of a low-noise, stress-free living and working environment

Johanna Bengtsson Ryberg

Relied-upon noise expert for Swedish media and at Arbetsmiljöverket (the Swedish Work Environment Authority), Bengtsson Ryberg holds a doctorate in Environmental Medicine and specializes in traffic noise. She writes about environmental noise in both English and Swedish.

“Community noise is a widespread environmental problem in Sweden, affecting children as well as adults.” she writes in her article A national project to evaluate and reduce high sound pressure levels from music. “Based on the findings of a national environmental health questionnaire, the noise sources that produced most annoyance in children were noise from other children and loud music.”

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