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Did you hear that?

Entering the psychoacoustic testing chamber

Photos by
An archival photo of Gilbert Tolhurst standing inside an anechoic chamber Photo of Benjamin Zobel standing inside an anechoic chamber

On the lower level of Tobin Hall, tucked behind an office and two metal doors is a chamber with a spike-covered ceiling, floor, and walls. It looks more like something out of a science fiction movie or, maybe even a nightmare. But its true purpose is as an incredibly unique research tool. The room is an anechoic (as in, free from echoes) chamber, used to study how humans perceive and process sounds.

A low-angle photo looking up at the terraced gardens outside Tobin Hall

Subjects sit in the center of the chamber while researchers from the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences and the Department of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences use speakers that surround them to test their ability to locate where sound is coming from, how echoes impact how we hear, and how to help people with specific kinds of hearing loss.

So, what’s up with the spikes? The spikes are made of foam and line every square foot of the room—descending from the ceiling and even ascending from the floor. The foam’s pattern formation dampens noise by breaking up sound waves and preventing sounds from concentrating in any one part of the room. “The anechoic chamber provides an ideal environment for conducting research on hearing with precisely controlled acoustic conditions that are not otherwise possible to achieve,” explains Assistant Professor of Research Benjamin Zobel ’21PhD.

Though it was built in the 1970s, this resource is a rare find on university campuses, even now—giving UMass students and researchers an incredible advantage. “This space is essential for advancing the cutting edge of research and education,” shares Zobel. “We are lucky to have such a unique and valuable facility available to us right here on campus.”

See (and hear) for yourself the pure silence of the chamber.