The University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Governor's Schools


Welcome to the Governor's School

The Physics of Music

Music is the art of sounds. It is probably well-known that music is part of, or affects our emotions according to how our brain processes sounds, as explained by a branch of science commonly referred to as psychoacoustics. The claim that music relates to our lives as a soundtrack to a movie is not an overstatement. Less known, on the contrary, is that music is permeated by science in every aspect, ranging from the production and detection of sound, to the rationalization of musical scales as being sequences of notes with well defined ratios among themselves.

As part of the the Governor's School for Science, this course aims at exposing young students to the fundamental scientific concepts and ideas underpinning many aspects of music. Topics include, but are not limited to, production and detection of sound, amplification, analysis and manipulation of waveforms, and a survey of the principles behind several musical instruments and sound modulation effects. Students will be exposed to concepts that are fundamental for other branches of science and engineering, ranging from optics to signal processing. As such, concepts and ideas exposed in this course will be beneficial to students willing to pursue further studies concentrated in scientific disciplines.

Course Requirements

The criteria for assigning grades for the course are the following:

Passing grade for the course: C

Course Instructors

Dr. Norman Mannella, Course Director

Norman MannellaNorman Mannella is an associate professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at UTK. Norman came to the US in 1997 after graduation from “Universita’ degli Studi di Milano” (Milano, Italy) with Laurea in Fisica (Master in Physics) in 1996. He enrolled in the Physics Graduate program at Univ. of California, Davis, and got his PhD in 2003 with Prof. C. S. Fadley. He was a Postdoctoral Fellow, at the Geballe Laboratory for Advanced Materials (GLAM), Physics Department, Stanford University, and a Visiting Scientist at the Advanced Light Source (ALS), LBNL, Berkeley, under the supervision of Prof. Z.X. Shen and Dr. Z. Hussain from Sep 2003 to Oct. 2006. He joined the Department of Physics and Astronomy at UT, Knoxville, in late 2007, after spending one year (2006-2007) as a Beamline scientist at the ALS, LBNL, Berkeley, in the Scientific Support Group of Dr. Z. Hussain and as a Research Associate in GLAM, Stanford University, with Prof. Z.X. Shen.

Norman’s general research interests concern the study of the electron correlations and the mechanisms of the interactions among different degrees of freedom in complex electron systems. Complex electron systems, featuring high temperature superconductors and colossal resistive manganites as prominent examples, are capable of exhibiting spectacular and unexpected phenomena arising from the interplay and competition of several degrees of freedom such as charge, lattice, and spin. This interplay is at the heart of the physics at play behind the functionality of complex electron systems suitable for technological applications which may have a strong impact on energy-saving and environmental science. Spectroscopic and structural probes in the soft x-ray regime are employed as the main tools in his research.

He is a recipient of the NSF Career Award (2012), the SPS Outstanding Teacher Award (2012), and the 2013 Professional Promise in Research and Creative Achievement.

Daniel Odell, Teaching Assistant

Daniel OdellDaniel will be entering his fourth year in graduate school this fall. He’s been studying nuclear and atomic structure as part of the theoretical nuclear physics group for a little over a year. After earning his B.S. in Physics from Clemson University, working for the Department of Energy, and teaching high school science, he brought his family to Knoxville to pursue his PhD. When he’s not at school or thinking about school, he enjoys trail running and spending time with his wife and two adorably exhausting children.


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Knoxville, Tennessee 37996 | 865-974-1000
The flagship campus of the University of Tennessee System