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DIY Basic Cymatics Machine

We know we can hear sounds but did you know there’s a way we can SEE sound too?
Sounds are made up of vibrations and in this experiment we can observe how the changing frequency of sound will create different patterns in sand.

Search terms: STEM, STEAM, sound, vibrations, science, cymatics, Chladni plates

  • Step 1Take your plastic jar and use a scalpel or box cutter to create a hole in one of the sides big enough to slide your phone into snugly.
  • Step 2Cut a balloon in half and use the top piece to cover the top opening of the jar. Make sure the balloon is on tightly to create a flat, taught surface.
  • Step 3Cut a piece of masking tape long enough to wrap the whole way around the top of the jar and lay it on a flat surface sticky side up. Lay another piece of tape on top of this so both sticky sides are together, positioning it off centre so there are strips of stickiness on both sides. Fold one of these sides over onto itself so there is only 1 sticky edge.
  • Step 4Wrap the strip of tape around the top of the jar so the sticky side attaches it to the rim. Use extra tape if needed to hold it in place. This has now created a rim to hold the sand on top of the balloon surface.
  • Step 5Choose a sand colour that will contrast with the balloon colour and use a teaspoon to sprinkle a small amount onto the surface of the balloon.
  • Step 6You can now use your phone to play different frequency tones (we used the website and view how the sand moves. Have your phone unlocked and on the tone generator website, then slide it into the jar through the hole you created. Make sure the jar is sitting dead flat to get the full effect (you may need to prop your phone up with a lump of blue tac). Hit ‘play’ and use the slider to slowly progress through the frequencies. Observe the different ways in which the sand is effected by the change in frequency. Does it stop moving? Change direction? React more intensely? Or less intensely? Take notes on your findings.
  • Step 7Here are some photos of the different patterns we found. Some frequencies seemed to create lines, while others were more circles. There are many versions of cymatics out there and various methods that people have used to view the patterns created by sound. Use this basic look at cymatics as a starting point for a deeper exploration and research of the subject!

Materials used in this activity

Balloons - Coloured - Pack of Approximately 100
Product Code: 10003
EACH $18.69 (inc GST) $16.99 (ex GST)
6 or more $13.85 (inc GST) $12.59 (ex GST)          
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Masking Tape - 24mm x 50m
Product Code: 11775
EACH $6.59 (inc GST) $5.99 (ex GST)
20 or more $4.61 (inc GST) $4.19 (ex GST)          
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Product Code: 15518
EACH $3.84 (inc GST) $3.49 (ex GST)
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CleverPatch Coloured Sand - 20g Sachets - Pack of 12 Colours
Product Code: 15787
EACH $5.49 (inc GST) $4.99 (ex GST)
20 or more $4.39 (inc GST) $3.99 (ex GST)          
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Product Code: 16947
EACH $2.75 (inc GST) $2.50 (ex GST)
24 to 95 $2.48 (inc GST) $2.25 (ex GST) 96 or more $1.93 (inc GST) $1.75 (ex GST)
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Wooden Teaspoons - Pack of 25
Product Code: 20098
EACH $4.39 (inc GST) $3.99 (ex GST)
5 or more $3.29 (inc GST) $2.99 (ex GST)          
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