Report: NOISE-CON 2020

The Show Must Go On(line)!

NOISE-CON 2020, the national conference of INCE-USA, was held as an online event from November 16 to 20, 2020. The theme of the event was Jazzin’ Up Noise Control, in a nod to its original location of New Orleans (unfortunately, due to travel restrictions related to the pandemic, the event was moved to a virtual event earlier in the year).

While organizing a conference like this involves contributions from many, many people, the chief organizers deserve special recognition for the incredible job they did switching from an in-person meeting to an online event. These include Gordon Ebbitt (conference chair), Kristin Cody (conference vice chair), Paul Donovan (technical chair), Steve Sorenson (technical cochair), and Pranab Saha and Patricia Davies (technical advisers). Over 400 people participated in the conference, with 122 technical papers in total, presenting on all aspects of noise control, from building acoustics to maritime noise. The conference was spread over five days, with events taking place every day.

Plenary Sessions

There were three plenary sessions during the conference, with the conference beginning with a plenary by Dr. Lily Wang (University of Nebraska–Lincoln). Her talk was titled “The Acoustic Experience in Restaurants,” and she presented on the high levels of noise that diners experience in restaurants (and often complain about in Zagat surveys). Dr. Wang reviewed recent work aimed at characterizing restaurant acoustics in real-world settings and followed it up with real-world tests. In situ measurements, along with geometric room characteristics, room impulse responses, and background noise levels, were gathered from various spaces, and then during restaurant operating hours, sound levels using dosimeters and sound level meters and occupancy using thermal imaging were logged during lunch or dinner service. Comparisons of the logged sound levels against Rindel’s predictive equation for restaurant noise levels were then made. A primary goal of this research was to understand how sound levels in operating restaurants vary with occupancy and the levels of ambient noise sources, as well as how specific architectural and design features such as seating style and density may contribute to the acoustic experience.

The second plenary talk was probably the highlight of the conference for this attendee. It was titled “Hand Dryer Noise” and was delivered by Nora Keegan, who had her research published as an eighth grader! (It was reported by many major news outlets at the time, but also by NNI back in 2019.) Nora studied hand dryer noise in a variety of locations where children were likely to be exposed by noise. She surveyed the devices by performing sound level measurements of 20 different conditions for 44 hand dryers, resulting in 880 hand dryer sound level measurements to quantitatively assess this issue. Nora concluded her study by submitting her findings to be published in the journal Pediatrics & Child Health in 2019. While these efforts to study the issue and be published are noteworthy by themselves, even more impressive was that Nora was only nine years old when she started this project.

The final plenary talk was delivered by Dr. Juliette W. Loup (University of New Orleans), titled “Underwater Acoustic Noise Effects on Marine Mammals in the Northern Gulf of Mexico.” This talk focused on the work of the Littoral Acoustic Demonstration Center (LADC). This was formed in early 2001 to utilize environmental acoustic recording systems (EARS) buoys developed by the Naval Oceanographic Office (NAVICEANO). LADC is a consortium of scientists from the US Navy at the Naval Research Laboratory-Stennis Space Center as well as a number of universities, including the University of New Orleans and the University of Southern Mississippi, among others. The long-term goal of LADC is to use advanced technology to study the anthropogenic soundscapes of the Gulf of Mexico and their impact on marine mammals.  In 2007, LADC conducted two-week visual and acoustic surveys of marine mammal activities just 9 miles and 23 miles from the Deepwater Horizon (DWH) spill site, giving LADC a unique prespill baseline dataset of marine mammal activity and anthropogenic soundscapes near the oil spill site. These results, including associated noise analyses, were presented during this talk.

Special Sessions

As with any NOISE-CON, there are always a wide array of special sessions throughout the conference, and this year was no different. Highlights included the INCE-USA General Meeting, a Classic Paper Session, Student and Professional Awards ceremonies, Career Development Workshop, a Product Noise Rating (PNR) Workshop, Women in Noise Control Engineering Session, Sonic Sea Panel Discussion, and a variety of Technical Committee Meetings. There was also a tutorial session on sound level meters, which was recorded and will be made available on the INCE-USA website.

Open to the Public

NOISE-CON conferences have a long history of having events related to outreach to the community. Typically, these have involved seminars and workshops focused on a number of topics related to noise.  The year 2020 was no different, and there were a number of open sessions to mark to occasion of 2020 being the International Year of Sound. These events included a career development forum, a Women in Noise Control Engineering Meeting, the INCE-USA General Meeting, the awards ceremonies, and a variety of Technical Activity Committee Meetings.

Giving Back

Conference Chair Gordon Ebbitt, on behalf of INCE-USA, presenting the donation to Andrea Williams, executive director of the Foundation for Science and Mathematics Education.

Following NOISE-CON 2020, INCE-USA donated $1,000 from proceeds generated at this annual conference to the Foundation for Science and Mathematics Education in New Orleans to help finance the New Orleans Center for Science and Math (Sci High). Sci High is an open enrollment high school dedicated to a full curriculum with an emphasis on science and math. Contributions for this donation came from NC20 exhibitors, Head Acoustics, Rion, VI Acoustics, the efforts of INCE-USA president Mike Bahtiarian, and a portion of the NC20 registration fees. This donation is part of a larger effort by INCE-USA to promote a more diverse and inclusive environment in the field of noise control engineering.