Ernst Chladni was born in Wittenberg, eastern Germany, on 30 November 1756, and died 3 April 1827, at the age of 70, in the Prussian city of Breslau (now Wrocław, Poland). Several of his ancestors were learned theologians, but his father was a lawyer and his mother and stepmother from lawyerly families. So young Ernst did well to break away into a sound profession, ho ho, making substantial advances in acoustic physics.
Chladni, 'the father of acoustics', conducted a large number of experiments with sound, measuring the speed of sound in various solids, and — more adventurously — in several gases too, including oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon dioxode. Interestingly, though I can find only one reference to it, he found that the speed of sound in Pinus sylvestris was 25% faster along the grain, compared to across it — is this the first observation of acoustic anisotropy?
The experiments Chladni is known for, however, are the plates. He effectively extended the 1D explorations of Euler and Bernoulli in rods, and d'Alembert in strings, to the 2D realm. You won't find a better introduction to Chladni patterns than this wonderful blog post by Greg Gbur. Do read it — he segués nicely into quantum mechanics and optics, firmly linking Chladni with the modern era. To see the patterns forming for yourself, here's a terrific demonstration (very loud!)...
The drawings from Chladni's book Die Akustik are almost as mesmerizing as the video. Indeed, Chladni toured most of mainland Europe, demonstrating the figures live to curious Enlightenment audiences. When I look at them, I can't help wondering if there is some application for exploration geophysics — perhaps we are missing something important in the wavefield when we sample with regular acquisition grids?
This post is part of a not-very-regular series of posts on important contributors to geophysics. It's going rather slowly — we're still in the eighteenth century. See all of them, and do make suggestions if we're missing some!