Why do all microwaves have the identical ‘beep’?


Like many people, Emily Worden has endured her share of Zoom conferences over the previous 12 months and a half. And someplace alongside the best way, she discovered herself asking a query that she figured was tailor made for the Curiosity Desk. She introduced it to our consideration on Twitter and we determined to take up the case.


First, we gathered as many microwaves as we might get our palms on and ran a fast, ad-hoc experiment to check how related these totally different microwaves truly sounded. Our conclusion? Fairly darn related. We then turned to Richard Hughes, a principal designer with Whirlpool Company, for some perception.

He defined that, for many years, the identical expertise has been utilized in practically all microwaves to generate that basic sound: A bit system known as a Piezoelectric buzzer

“It is basically a membrane that vibrates,” mentioned Hughes. “[It’s] electrically charged and vibrates to create a sound pretty similar to the best way a speaker works.”

Piezoelectricity was first demonstrated by Pierre and Jaques Curie manner again in 1880. It’s — in essence — an electrical cost that accumulates in sure supplies when bodily stress is utilized. That piezo half comes from a Greek phrase which means “squeeze or press.”

The piezoelectric buzzer harnesses this cost to generate that easy beep.

It was first delivered to market by Japanese producers within the Fifties and shortly proved to be a worldwide hit. On the one hand they’re remarkably versatile — used not simply in microwaves, but in addition smoke alarms, timers, and all types of different devices. Then again, they’re fairly restricted in what they will do.

“We might set the frequency, however we could not do far more than that,” mentioned Hughes. “The frequency and the size of that be aware was about all we had accessible to us.”

And for this reason, for many years, practically all microwaves sounded so related. However right this moment, it’s a complete totally different ball sport. Because of digital applied sciences, developed primarily for cell phones, a veritable symphony of sounds is accessible on the contact of a button. So, the times of the Piezoelectric buzzer – and that iconic microwave beep – may very well be numbered.

WATCH: Why do all microwaves have the identical ‘beep’?

If there’s something you’ve got been itching to know extra about, e mail The Curiosity Desk or ship in your query under. Edgar would possibly simply dig up the reply in a future episode. For extra from The Curiosity Desk, observe Edgar B. Herwick III on Twitter and subscribe to the GBH Information YouTube Channel.


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