Why does helium make your voice so high pitched?!


Why does helium make your voice so high pitched?


Taken from "The Naked Scientists" forum:

If you imagine your throat as a bit like an organ pipe, when the organist plays a note, one cycle of a wave, with a wavelength approximately the length of the tube, is generated inside the pipe. So when you talk you produce sound waves with wavelengths determined by the length of your throat.

The speed of a wave (c) is given by multiplying the wavelength and the frequency together (c=l.f) and this can be re-arranged to find the frequency of the sound wave (in other words how high it sounds) (f), thus : "frequency = speed divided by wavelength" or f=c/l.

But helium is less dense than the other consitutents of air and so sound travels much more quickly in helium (900 metres per second) than in air (350 metres per second). Substitute these numbers into the forumla we got above (f=c/l) and you get a value for f (helium) 2.5 times greater than f (air). As a result you voice sounds 2.5 times higher when you breathe helium.

Conversely, if you were to breathe a denser gas than air you could make your voice sound much lower.

Divers breathing a helium-rich mix (to overcome the problem of increased gas density at extreme depths) talk to their support crew using a "helium voice unscrambler" which reinforces the lower notes in their voices whilst suppressing the higher tones so that they can be understood.

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