Measuring the speed of sound

Water level
0 cm 80 cm
Alternate level adjustment:
Tuning fork:

This is a simulation of a standard physics demonstration to measure the speed of sound in air. A vibrating tuning fork is held above a tube - the tube has some water in it, and the level of the water in the tube can be adjusted. This gives a column of air in the tube, between the top of the water and the top of the tube. By setting the water level appropriately, the height of the air column can be such that it gives a resonance condition for the sound wave produced by the tuning fork. In the real experiment, resonance is found by listening - the sound from the tube is loudest at resonance. In the simulation, resonance is shown by the amplitude of the wave in the air column. The larger the amplitude, the closer to resonance. Note that at certain special heights of the air column, no sound is heard - this is because of completely destructive interference.

In addition, there is always a node (for displacement of the air molecules) at the water surface. To a first approximation, resonance occurs when there is an anti-node at the top of the tube. Knowing the frequency of the tuning fork, the height of the air column, and the appropriate equation for standing waves in a tube like this, the speed of sound in air can be determined experimentally. What do you get for the speed of sound in air in this simulation?

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This work by Andrew Duffy is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
This simulation can be found in the collection at

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