ECU engineering student gets research award to measure cloud cover

Some people see objects when they look up at the clouds. Sophie Arruza sees a research project.

The sophomore engineering student at East Carolina University is looking into the effect clouds have on how sound travels through the atmosphere. For her work, she has received the Robert W. Young Award for Undergraduate Research in Acoustics from the Acoustical Society Foundation.

“Anything can change the sound — the heat, the time of day. Every little thing can change how the sound goes through the atmosphere,” Arruza said. “It might not be a lot. It might be only 2% clouds, but the sound might be different. It’s going to be different if it’s 100% clouds or 10% clouds.”

ECU engineering student Sophie Arruza received the Robert W. Young Award for undergraduate research in acoustics from the Acoustical Society Foundation. Arruza is seeking to design a system to measure the exact amount of cloud cover in the sky to more effectively determine how those clouds can affect sound. (Photo by Ken Buday)

Dr. Teresa Ryan, assistant professor in the Department of Engineering, has been working on sound propagation research through an Office of Naval Research grant. Arruza’s work is just one part of that project.

Arruza spent last summer at ECU’s Outer Banks campus as part of Ryan’s team of student researchers. As the team conducted sound tests, members would estimate the amount of cloud cover.

“There was no set measurement,” Arruza said of the clouds. “We had three different locations, and someone might say it’s 35% and someone else might say it’s 50%.”

Arruza’s plan is to create a MATLAB algorithm that can go through pictures of the sky at the time of sound tests to determine the exact percentage of cloud cover.

“Since we didn’t have a sure-fire way, it just adds to make our research more reliable and more complete,” Arruza said of the research. “It makes it better because we can find out how much clouds interfere with the sound. If we do a test and it’s different, maybe it’s because the clouds had something to do with it. The clouds are not a huge part of it, but this just adds more data to make the research better and better.”

She reacted to the award with surprise and appreciation.

“I didn’t think I was going to get it,” she said. “It’s very helpful. It’s a great way to help fund this.”

Arruza said the research team often worked in hot, muggy conditions during the summer at the Outer Banks campus. They could spend the morning setting up a sound test only to cancel because of afternoon thunderstorms. Still, she said she enjoyed the work as well as opportunities that a summer at the beach provides.

“It was a fun little experience, especially for my first summer at ECU,” Arruza said. “I don’t know a lot yet, just being a sophomore, but it was a good experience to know how my classes and some ideas I have about engineering actually play out and just to see the work that goes on behind big projects like this.”

Research opportunities like the one she has as well as the chance to be close to her Apex home are among the reasons Arruza decided to attend ECU.

“I really like how the classes at ECU are smaller,” she said. “You’re way more connected, and I’ve seen that since I’ve been here. The staff and the professors are attentive to you. I just really appreciate how they want to know you and provide you opportunities. They want you to try things out, or if it doesn’t work, find things that are better for you.”

Storm clouds, such as these at ECU’s Outer Banks campus, can affect how far sound travels, something engineering student Sophie Arruza is researching. (Contributed photo)