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Optical Guitars: Sound and Light
- Hans-Peter Loock


Video Name

Optical Guitars: Sound and Light - Hans-Peter Loock


NSERC Communications



Release Date

October 20, 2011


Explore how NSERC-funded research is using fibre optics to re-discover the guitar. Featuring the work of Hans-Peter Loock (Queen’s University).

Optical Guitars: Sound and Light - Hans-Peter Loock

Dr. Hans Peter Loock

I got into science not because my family was into science – my father is a banker; he’s retired now of course – but I had very good teachers in school and I loved physics and chemistry. And I was on – for a while I was not decided whether I wanted to study physics or chemistry, but I had a brilliant chemistry teacher in high school, and I studied engineering-chemistry, so a chemistry degree with a bit of engineering thrown in. So I’m both a chemist and an engineer.

So what you’re seeing today is one fibre optic sensor that we developed. It’s a fibre optic sensor for strain and vibration, and we use it to pick up the vibrations of a guitar body. So the fibre optic guitar sensor, for example, it’s not just a pick-up for a guitar; it also is a very good vibration sensor as such. So you can put it into an airplane wing; you can put it into a blade of a windmill, right, a wind turbine; you can put it on machinery; you can measure the strain in engines, in cars, what have you. So there’s many applications aside from musical instruments.

The other sensors are used as sensors for drinking water quality, environmental contamination. One of the things we need to know is that our sensors are only recording the vibrations we’re interested in, so they have to be noise-free. They’re not supposed to pick up electronic noise or optical noise because our laser intensity changes and so on.

Now, the best way to figure that out is to actually listen to the vibration signal coming out. So we’re plugging the sensor into a microph—into a headphone, and just listen to your sensor. If you place the sensor on a guitar, then what you should hear is a really pure guitar sound. And only when our sensor’s good enough that it fulfills hi-fi requirements, then we know it is really noise-free. If it’s good enough for a guitar, it’s good enough for everything else.

With the guitar pick-up, one thing that I always wanted to try is to use it as a chemical sensor recording the photo-acoustic response of chemicals. So we zap a chemical or a solution with a laser. It generates sound, and that sound can be picked up with fibre optic cables.

I like best that I can pretty much do what I like. Right? So I can think of an experiment. If I have a bit of funding, I can just explore things. And most of the time it doesn’t work out. But sometimes it does, and then you’ve made a discovery. And I think this is how progress is being made. NSERC is actually very good at this because they – the discovery program permits me to do this research that doesn’t have milestones, that is just curiosity driven.

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