Acoustics engineers help ESPN rate loudest college basketball arenas

University Park, Pa. — Who's got the loudest college basketball arena in the country? ESPN the Magazine recently asked engineers from Penn State's graduate acoustics program to help answer the question.

The results appear in the magazine's Nov. 15 issue, which is available on newsstands.

Micah Shepherd, a doctoral candidate in acoustics and a research assistant at the Applied Research Laboratory (ARL) who led the effort, said the magazine heard about the crowd noise measurements conducted at Penn State football games at Beaver Stadium.

"One of their writers contacted Stephen Hambric, professor of acoustics, and asked him about doing this type of analysis, figuring out which basketball arena is the loudest," Shepherd said.

Hambric then asked Shepherd to see if he was interested in leading the project.

With a tight deadline, Shepherd and a group of acoustics graduate students quickly went to work. Shepherd's team included Andy Christian, Bryan Cranage, Dan Domme, Neal Evans, Michael Gardner, Andrew Orr and Kieran Poulain.

"We had a relatively short time frame," he said. "It wasn't feasible to go out into every arena and do measurements anyway. So, I looked back in some textbooks on acoustics and found equations for sound buildup in large rooms -- large meaning arenas, concert halls, things like that."

Those equations served as the starting point for the Penn State acoustics team.

"The equations are really well developed," Shepherd stated. "You can predict the sound-pressure level at a location if you know characteristics of the room, which would be the size, the shape and the materials of the walls."

To test their mathematical model, the team conducted simple measurements at the Bryce Jordan Center on campus and the Petersen Events Center at the University of Pittsburgh.

With a successful test, Shepherd said, "So we told the ESPN writer, 'If we can get all of the information on all the arenas, then we can use this model and predict what the levels are. Then based on that, you can rank them on how conducive the arena is to high noise.'"

The acoustics team had to take into account different seating capacities and seating arrangements, as well as crowd noise.

"We had to figure out how to put in the model all the people who are yelling, how loud they're going to yell, how to compensate for distribution of the students, who usually yell louder than the non-students," Shepherd said. "So we came up with a fairly simple approximate way to take that into account, mix that together with the large-room models that we had and came up with some numbers."

According to Andrew Barnard, a doctoral candidate in acoustics and researcher with ARL who worked on the Penn State football crowd noise measurements and consulted on the project, the key was making sure the comparisons were consistent across the arenas

"All we were trying to do was an apples-to-apples comparison of the buildings themselves and their sound characteristics," Barnard said.

Shepherd said the model doesn’t take into account some things that happen during games. "We didn't account for people stomping up and down, other noisemakers, things like that."

Because no actual measurements were made, the magazine's rankings are only based on each basketball arena's potential to be the loudest, as well as the experience of ESPN staffers. The publication named the facilities at Duke University, the University of Kansas, the University of Kentucky and the University of New Mexico among its loudest arenas.

"I guess one surprising thing was the top four were all pretty close in terms of levels," Shepherd said. "Like it says in the article, the rankings only show the potential of an arena. If your arena is number two, you can overcome that by exerting more effort."

"With crazy fans," Barnard added.

Click on this link to read a preview of the ESPN story and rankings.

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Last Updated November 22, 2010