Dr. Jane D. Flood
In physics we look for analytical approaches that can be used to solve a variety of problems. The wave approach is a common thread through a number of my courses, including General Physics II, The Physics of Music, Modern Physics and Optics. Each of these courses applies the general approach of wave theory to particular applications, ranging from thin film interference and vibrating strings to the electronic structure of the hydrogen atom. All of these phenomena can be described as a solution to a wave equation, so finding solutions and describing the physics employ a similar approach even though the systems are quite different.
I have been interested in music for most of my life, and in 2003 was offered a wonderful opportunity when music theorist Diane Follet suggested that she and I develop an interdisciplinary, team-taught Physics of Music course. I had the good fortune to collaborate with Professor Follet at the intersection of music and physics for 10 years. In that time, my knowledge of musical acoustics deepened and became one of my main professional interests.
Research, Scholarship or Creative/Artistic Interests
As an amateur violinist, I developed a particular interest in the physics of the violin. You may be familiar with the famous violins crafted by Stradivari and Amati. A great deal of research has focused on the exceptional quality of these instruments; physicists and musicians still debate the question today. There is also interesting physics associated with the bowed string. Herbert von Helmholtz, a medical doctor who was an excellent pianist with a talent for physics, was the first to explore this connection. He invented an ingenious device to record the shape of the bowed string over time. That movement, Helmholtz motion, comes about because of the way the string sticks and slips under the changing friction of the bow.
My current research is a study of playability in carbon fiber and wood violins. Playability is the ease with which an instrument speaks, related to the minimum bow force needed to establish Helmholtz motion. Using a bowing machine designed by Professor Robert Mores and built by Muhlenberg Plant Operations staff, Ann Bodnyk ’69, Julia Kotler ’18 and I are comparing the minimum bow force needed to establish Helmholtz motion on carbon fiber and wood violins.