Engineering Question #281

Jason, a 15 year old male from Virginia asks on November 18, 2001,

What is the effect of sound on plants? I have come up with a lot of good information, but I have yet to develop a good way of testing my thesis. I was hoping you could have some ideas. Maybe if you all could point me in a good direction, I would be most grateful.
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The answer

Barry Shell answered on November 18, 2001

A search on "music plants" yields lots of interesting reading and you should try it. One such site run by Ross Koning of Eastern Connecticut University gives several references to articles in scientific journals but you will have to look them up in a real library. Koning also gives much good advice to students wishing to conduct an experiment on factors that influence plant growth.

My own personal opinion as a scientist is skeptical. I'd have to see really excellent experimental design and I'd have to see a lot of experiments that repeat the same results. Unfortunately, it seems such experimental results do not exist. My own personal experience with plants and music (and I know a fair bit having been in many orchestras and blues bands, and having worked in the greenhouse industry for many years) leads me to doubt that there could be a real correlation between music and plants. Here is a reason why: If there was a significant effect of music on plants, I can assure you that every commercial grower would be playing music to plants. This is simply not the case. Go to any greenhouse, garden centre or field of plants. There's no music. Things that really affect plant growth in a big way are light, water and nutrients in that order. Anyone who is serious about growing plants gives them these three things in good amounts. (Light is by far the most important one.) Virtually no serious growers who are in it for the money play music to plants--although I'm sure there are a few.

My bet is that the experiments that show a correlation between music and plants are somehow being influenced by the experimenter in the way he or she gives the plants light, water and nutrients in disproportionate ways depending on the music. It might even be subconscious on the part of the experimenter. For instance, maybe if the experimenter likes classical music, he spends more time caring for the plants when the classical music is playing. But when the plants get heavy metal music the experimenter spends less time watering and feeding because he wants to get out of there as fast as he can since he dislikes the music.

Barry Shell answered on February 9, 2006

A lot of kids write to asking how they can do an experiment to determine if sound affects plants. Here are some ideas. It's very important to try LOTS of plants, AND make sure they all get EXACTLY the same treatment, except for sound. Here are some ideas:

1. Find two soundproof places to grow your plants that have identical conditions. e.g. two rooms in your school with windows facing the same way, the same size, nothing blocking them, etc.
2. Plant lots of seeds. At least ten for each sound room. A hundred would be better.
3. Make sure the soil, pots, fertilizer, watering, etc. are identical for all plants.
4. Make sure that the people caring for the plants don't know which ones get the music or what kind of music they get.

At the end of the experiment, measure the size of all the plants in the music and non-music groups and average each group to get an average number for each type of treatment.

Laura, in Mentor, Ohio answered on February 8, 2003

My 16-year-old son performed a month-long experiment of sound on plants for his biology class. He used two identical plants and placed one in front of the TV for approximately 17 hours a day. The other was placed in a room with complete silence. Both received the same water and light source. Conclusion: both plants grew at exactly the same rate, which was approximately 1/4" per week. There you go!

Alex answered on April 3, 2003

I did an experiment like this as well and I can tell you that on yahoo and google there are alot of sites with positive info so keep looking if you want more info. My experiment worked and my rock and roll plant beat classical and no music plants. I set it up with headphones in the same room because you need the same amount of light. Maybe it had something to do with the light given off by the TV in Laura's experiment.

Morgan Harris answered on September 19, 2004

I am 16 and I did this experiment for biology and I did it on sunflowers. I had three plants. One in a room by the window listening to Usher. One in another room by the window on the same side of house so sunlight was even, listening to hard grunge rock, and one listening to nothing in a room by the window. My result was that they all grew the same. Therefore my conclusion was that plants don't hear anything at all. They don't have ears.

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