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Physics Today


As early as 250 BCE, captains of ancient Greek ships would drop lead weights overboard to provide an estimate of water depth. They would count until those “sounders” produced an audible thud and in that way measure the propagation time of the falling weight. Even though the practice has given way to other technologies for sounding, one still hears the phrase “to sound something out.” In the 17th century, Isaac Newton became fascinated with sound propagation and was one of the first to describe relationships between the speed of sound and measurable properties of the propagation medium, such as density and pressure. Section 8 of Book 2 of the Principia, for example, is devoted to “the motion propagated through fluids” and includes the proposition that the sound speed is given by the square root of the ratio of the “elastic force” to the density of the medium.


This work is freely available courtesy of the American Institute of Physics.

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