Many students believe sound can travel through empty space.
The following worksheets may help to identify whether students hold this particular misconception.
For more information, see the University of York BEST website.
Resources to Address This
How are we able to hear? (5-11)
Ref - SPT HS02 PN02
The first step in answering this question is to treat the act of hearing as involving a chain from source (which is vibrating) to medium (which enables the vibrations to pass) to detector (which in this case is you!) For vibrations to travel from source to detector there must be particles of matter in the gap, and these form the medium. If there are no particles then there is nothing to carry the sound from source to detector.View Resource
What travels and what doesn't travel? (11-14)
Ref - So01TL06
Right Lines:Vibrations travel as the disturbance from the speaker cone spreads out through the air. First of all the air next to the cone is made to move to and fro. Since neighbouring particles affect one another this pattern is passed on to groups of particles all around. So the pattern of vibration travels from one block of particles to the next, and the sound travels without the particles needing to make the trip themselves.View Resource
Sounds in solids and gases (14-16)
Ref - Ra01 TL08
Right Lines:The particles in solids are closer together and more tightly coupled. So the delay in the vibration being passed on between neighbouring volumes of particles is much less. Sound travels faster in solids than in gases.
The vibrations can not travel if there are no particles.View Resource
The following studies have documented this misconception:
- Mazens, K. & Lautrey, J. () Conceptual change in physics: children’s naive representations of sound, Cognitive Development, 18,
- Hernandez, M. I., Couso, D. & Pinto, R. () The Analysis of Students’ Conceptions as a Support for Designinga Teaching/Learning Sequence on the Acoustic Propertiesof Materials, Journal of Science Education Technology, 21,
- Hernandez, M. I., Couso, D. & Pinto, R. () The Analysis of Students’ Conceptions as a Support for Designinga Teaching/Learning Sequence on the Acoustic Propertiesof Materials, Journal of Science Education and Technology, 21,
- Eshach, H., Lin, T-C and Tsai, C-C. () Taiwanese middle school students’ materialistic concepts of sound. Physical Review Physics Education Research, 12, 010119.
- Eshach, H. () "Development of a student-centered instrument to assess middle school students’ conceptual understanding of sound". Physical Review Special Topics - Physics Education Research, DOI: 10. 10.1103/PhysRevSTPER.10.010102.
- Hrepic, Z., Zollman, D. and Rebello, N.S. () Identifying students’ mental models of sound propagation: The role of conceptual blending in understanding conceptual change. Physical Review Special Topics - Physics Education Research, 6, 020114.
- West, E. and Wallin, A. () Students' Learning of a Generalised Theory of Sound Transmission from a Teaching-learning sequence about sound, hearing and health. International Journal of Science Education, 35, 6, Sweden,
- Linder, C. J. () University physics students’ conceptualizations of factors affecting the speed of sound propagation. International Journal of Science Education, 15 (6), South Africa,