Acoustical Dropping Sticks

Grade Range: K-12
Resource Type(s): Artifacts, Primary Sources
Date Posted: 3/23/2012

This is a set of eight "dropping sticks" used to teach acoustics. It was made in Paris by the famous scientific instrument maker Rudolph Koenig, sometime between 1858 and 1902. This particular set was used in the introductory physics class of the Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

These sticks are wood (probably cedar), and although they are all the same length and width, they each have a slight difference in thickness. The different thicknesses make them resonate at a slightly different frequency when tapped or dropped on their ends. They are numbered 1 through 8 and together produce the 8 notes of a musical octave.

Koenig's 1889 Catalogue des Appareils D'Acoustique describes this set as "Eight wooden bars giving the musical scale when thrown in succession upon the floor." They originally sold for 6 francs.

Acoustics, in addition to lending an understanding of the physics of music, was important in the 19th-century science classroom because it demonstrated the property of waves. Waves were an important subject during this time, as they were considered to explain not only sound but heat and light.

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