Illustration for article titled This weekend, learn to extinguish a candle with your voice

Got some free time and some candles? Try to extinguish a flame with your voice! We know it can be done, we're just not sure how it can be done. Maybe you'll have a breakthrough. Or maybe you'll just have a housefire.


I was disappointed when I found out that a human voice can't shatter a glass. It was a personal disappointment, because if any singing voice could crack glass, it would be mine. Alas, it turns out that we don't have that kind of power in our lungs. But now I can comfort myself with the thought that maybe, just maybe, I can snuff out a candle with a song.

John Tyndall, who spent the 1800s studying everything from the movement of air to infrared radiation, found that if he put enough oomph into his voice he could extinguish a candle. Recently, scientists have been trying to find out how that would work. It seems easy to understand. Sound waves involve the movement of air. Blowing out a candle does, too. Sadly, it's not that simple. Not only does it take a certain volume level, some frequencies are better at others at pinching out a flame.


The best theory in circulation on how it happens centers on the fact that sound involves the alternation of high and low air pressure. Increase the pressure on a given volume of gas - like air - and you'll increase the temperature. Decrease it the pressure, and you'll decrease the temperature. Fire requires heat to keep going. A sudden drop in air pressure could decrease the temperature around a small flame enough to freeze it out.

Give it a try this weekend. Grab a candle, carefully tie back your hair, and sing to it until it decides that life isn't worth living anymore. Low frequency sounds - low voices - have a better chance of putting out a fire, so if you're a soprano, either put the candle in front of a speaker and play Barry White, or recruit your own baritone.

Via Scientific American

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