College of Liberal Arts

University of Mississippi

UM Acoustics One of the Top in U.S.

from The Daily Mississippian by Jacob Batte

Toward the softball field down All-American Drive, on the right, sits a building hidden amongst the trees.

The obscured building is the Jamie L. Whitten National Center for Acoustics, one of the largest acoustics research programs in the U.S.

Established by a congressional act in 1986, the National Center for Physical Acoustics, or NCPA, has grown to 85,000 square feet of office and lab space, with an anechoic chamber, a Mach 5 jet test facility, a resonant ultrasound spectroscopy lab, Faraday cage labs and a multi-million dollar machine shop for in-house design and prototype fabrication. Just last year the center received around $13.5 million for their research.

“We are unique in that we offer some facilities that aren’t available even in government labs,” said Georgana Atkins, the assistant director for marketing and business development for the NCPA. “We have a Mach 5 wind tunnel, and the military, air force and navy send projects here and use our wind tunnel.”

Acoustics is the branch of physics that deals with sound and sound waves. The center studies five main fields of acoustics: aero-acoustics, atmospheric acoustics, porous media acoustics, resonant ultrasound spectroscopy and wind noise.

Aero-acoustics is devoted to the study of aerodynamically generated sound. Atmospheric acoustics is the study of the propagation of acoustic waves outdoors involving a wide range of complex phenomena. The center’s infrasound program falls under this category. The porous media acoustics program actually works with the military, which includes research into the detection of anti-personnel land mines. The resonant ultrasound spectroscopy includes biomedical and energy related research, while the wind noise research has helped out the Navy and the Air Force.

“We have done projects with the Navy and Air Force on how to make their jet engines quieter,” Atkins said.

The NCPA is constantly working with other groups on the different areas of research.

“We have worked with the Army a lot – as a matter of fact, they were instrumental in getting that wind tunnel here,” Atkins said. “We have done a lot of work with the USDA. We have done work with corporate partners. We do a lot of partnerships with other universities, the government and other laboratories. We’ll work with anybody.”

Other groups that the center collaborates with include the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Energy and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

NCPA director James Chambers and assistant director Kenneth Gilbert are recognized nationally for expertise in their fields.

Jericho Cain, graduate student working on his Ph.D. in acoustics, said he likes the ability to work with such experts.

“There are a lot of knowledgeable people here at the NCPA,” Cain said. “It’s a good opportunity, because when you are working on a Ph.D. project, it’s important to have a lot of people around to ask questions. And also because of the facilities here, but the access to lots of experts to help you just makes life a little easier.”

Many of the students that work within the research program are physics, engineering, biology or computer science majors.  While the center works mainly with graduate students, there are some opportunities for undergraduate students to get some experience as well.

“We have honors programs, and we also do a summer program called Basic Acoustics Summer School, which is specifically designed to sort of segue people from undergraduate to graduate,” Atkins said. “They can apply for that in their junior or senior year to come and work for here for the summer.”