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17.8: Sound Intensity Level

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Sound Intensity Level

17.8: Sound Intensity Level

Humans perceive sound by hearing. The human ear helps sound waves reach the brain, which then interprets the waves and creates the perception of hearing. The loudness of the environment in which a person is located determines whether they can distinguish between different sound sources.

The human ear can perceive an extensive range of sound intensity, necessitating the use of the logarithmic scale to define a physical quantity—the intensity level. It is a ratio of two intensities and hence a unitless quantity. The standard for measuring the intensity level is taken as the intensity at which human ears can barely hear a sound, 10−12 watt per square meter. The human eardrum is only about one square centimeter; hence, at the hearing threshold, it can process 10−16 watt of energy per second, demonstrating that the ear is an incredibly sensitive organ.

The intensity level is expressed in decibels, named after Alexander Graham Bell, who invented the telephone. On this scale, the threshold of pain is 120 decibels, and at a sound intensity greater than this, eardrums get damaged within seconds.

This text is adapted from Openstax, University Physics Volume 1, Section 17.3: Sound Intensity.


Sound Intensity Level Human Ear Perception Of Hearing Loudness Sound Sources Logarithmic Scale Physical Quantity Intensity Level Unitless Quantity Measuring Standard Hearing Threshold Watt Per Square Meter Eardrum Sensitive Organ Decibels Alexander Graham Bell Threshold Of Pain Eardrum Damage

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