Radiology for Residents

Doppler


Austrian physicist Christian Johann Doppler (1803-1853) made an important discovery regarding the relative motion of sound waves or light waves. While teaching in Prague, Doppler published his most notable work, On the colored light of the binary stars and some other stars of the heavens. In this work, Doppler postulated his principle (later coined the Doppler effect) that the observed frequency of a wave depends on the relative speed of the source and the observer, and he tried to use this concept for explaining the color of binary stars. Doppler also became fascinated with a common, but previously unexplained, phenomenon. When an observer is standing beside a railroad track and a train approaches, Doppler noticed, the train's whistle has a high pitch. As it passes by, however, the sound of the train whistle suddenly becomes much lower. By Doppler's time, physicists had recognized the existence of sound waves, as well as the fact a sound's pitch is a function of frequency—in other words, the closer the waves are to one another, the higher the pitch. Taking this knowledge, he reasoned that if a source of sound is moving toward a listener, the waves in front of the source are compressed, thus creating a higher frequency. On the other hand, the waves behind the moving source are stretched out, resulting in a lower frequency. After developing a mathematical formula to describe this effect, Doppler presented his findings in 1842. Three years later, he and Dutch meteorologist Christopher Heinrich Buys-Ballot (1817-1890) conducted a highly unusual experiment to demonstrate the theory. Buys-Ballot arranged for a band of trumpet players to perform on an open railroad flatcar, while riding past a platform on which a group of musicians with perfect pitch (that is, a finely tuned sense of hearing) sat listening. The experiment went on for two days, the flatcar passing by again and again, while the horns blasted and the musicians on the platform recorded their observations. Though Doppler and Buys-Ballot must have seemed like crazy men to those who were not involved in the experiment, the result—as interpreted from the musicians' written impressions of the pitches they heard—confirmed Doppler's theory.

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