Everyone becomes attuned to specific sounds that are uniquely important to them. Perhaps you’re used to waiting for the thud of the morning paper being tossed onto your front porch. Or maybe you can distinctly tell the sound of your boss’s footstep from everyone else’s, shuffling down the hallway towards your desk. We learn to listen for these sounds and train ourselves to hear them clearly over the backdrop soundtrack of everyday life.
In a chemistry lab, there are many sounds a researcher needs to listen for to ensure the safety and success of their work. For five years I worked in a chemistry lab at the University of Calgary, in Alberta, Canada, and while there I focused on developing new molecules that might someday be put to work making materials and plastics the public could use. Relying on one machine in particular to keep these molecules in good condition, I learned to listen for this machine’s sounds to tell me everything was alright — or to alert me when things were about to go very wrong.[podcast]http://www.scienceline.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/AK_GloveBox.mp3[/podcast]