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Alex investigates how sound design makes for sound design

Posted on 17 October 2014

An expert on acoustic modelling is to work with the University of York’s Department of Electronics investigating and developing new methods for architectural and environmental sound design.

Dr Alex Southern

Dr Alex Southern, a senior consultant specialising in acoustic modelling and auralisation techniques at AECOM, will join the Department’s AudioLab for two years under the Royal Society’s Industry Fellowship Scheme.

Artificially creating a listening experience indistinguishable from the real thing has many exciting application areas including virtual reality, music, immersive computer gaming and cinema/television. But the technology is also more directly beneficial to society - what will a new road or rail development sound like in nearby gardens and how might sound barriers alleviate the potential noise increase? How will optimal acoustic treatment improve the sound of a new school classroom, with the associated impact on the health of the voice and hearing of both teachers and children?

The sound quality of our built environment is an important factor in people’s health and wellbeing. The World Health Organisation notes that one in five Europeans is regularly exposed to noise levels at night that could damage their health significantly.

Dr Southern’s research will help to better demonstrate how exposure to excessive or unwanted sound relates to the subjective nature of the acoustic environment in which it is heard, a concept that is difficult to express using industry standard noise level criteria. This, in turn, will inform planners in their consideration of future buildings, cities and associated environments, through the inclusion of sound quality at the initial design stages.

A former Masters and PhD graduate of the AudioLab at York, Dr Southern said: “I’m delighted about the award and the opportunity to bridge the gap between academia and industry.  I am looking forward to the research and working and collaborating in the AudioLab once again.”

Dr Damian Murphy, Reader in the AudioLab, said: “It is great to welcome Alex back to the University of York, bringing with him his considerable post-doctoral and industry experience. This Royal Society Industry Fellowship is a great opportunity for us to be able to influence and improve the quality of all our lives through the virtual acoustics research taking place here at York, and the impact this will have on next-generation acoustic design.”

It is one of eight new fellowships announced by the Royal Society. They are aimed at strengthening links between academia and industry. The fellowships are awarded to academic scientists who want to work on a collaborative project with industry and for scientists in industry who want to work on a collaborative project with an academic organisation.

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