Rafed English

It's a Squawker

By : Andy Boyles, Senior Science Editor

Art by : Anni Matsick

I don't like the screeching of fingernails on a chalkboard. But I can enjoy some squeaks and squawks—if I'm the one who's making them.

I discovered my love of annoying sounds after I made a simple squawker. You can see how I made it from the picture on this page. I borrowed the ideas from other people, who had borrowed their ideas from others.

Once the gadget was made, I held the cup in one hand. With my other hand, I wet the piece of sponge, used it to grip the string, and then pulled downward gently.

The result was a loud sound that brought in people from other rooms here at Highlights. Some wanted to know who was using a turkey caller, or if a chicken was loose in the building. Most people just wanted me to stop.

I explained that I was learning about sound. "As I pull down, the string slips through the sponge in a jerky way," I said. "That makes the bottom of the cup quickly move up and down, or vibrate. And that vibration creates waves in the air, which we call sound."

I looked at my co-workers' faces. Nobody was impressed. "What else can that thing do?" someone said.

I tried different ways of changing the sounds that the squawker could make. I asked my colleague Erin Berger to do the sponge part while I held the cup in one hand and the end of the string in the other.

Erin worked the sponge while I pulled the string tight, and again while I pulled it not-so-tight. (What kinds of sounds do you think it made?)

I cut off the sides of the cup, which made the thing quieter. (Can you guess why that might have happened?)

I thought of other changes to try. How would it sound if I used a bigger cup, or a smaller one, or a plastic one? What if I used a different kind of string?

I hope you'll make at least one squawker to find out. But if you like living in a happy home, you may want to test it outside.

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