Research rings a bell for summer scholar
By: Kelli Yoder '08

The ringing of bells could be heard this summer from the basement of the Science Building when physics and music collided in a research project.

Junior Jonathan Nafziger, a physics and art double major from Goshen, was measuring the vibrations of handbells as part of the college’s annual summer Maple Scholars program.

Professor of Physics John Ross Buschert has been conducting handbell research since he decided they would make an interesting and interactive project in 1996. “The ultimate goal is to learn about handbells,” Buschert said. “The secondary goal is to improve them.”

This summer’s excitement was prompted by the completion of a new anechoic chamber. The chamber is a small room lined with all-white foam which absorbs sound nearly completely so there is no reflection off the walls.

The research pair wants to be able to share measurements of sound directionality collected in the chamber with bell ringers, so the musicians can better aim their sound. “I hope that we can produce some interesting visual maps that ordinary people can understand,” Buschert said. Nafziger has made some drafts already.

And for the first time this year, the college borrowed an actual set of handbells to test from a local school, Bethany Christian High School. “Jonathan is getting a whole set of measurements on Bethany’s bells that we have never had before,” Buschert said. The measurements are an attempt “to find a correlation between where to place a bell clapper and where the nodal lines are,” he said. Nodal lines are places where, as he can see from the holographic recordings, the bells do not vibrate after they are struck.

Bell manufacturers hit newly made bells in various places, listening for the desired tone. On average, Nafziger says, about a third of all bells are thrown out because there’s no good place to locate the clapper. By the summer’s end, Nafziger and Buschert had determined that the placement of clappers isn’t random. “There was in fact a good place to put the clapper,” Buschert said.