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Park High graduate studies ‘chaotic’ field of aeroacoustics

Photo courtesy of Jann Lambert

Carl Berntsen, 25, stands outside the University of Notre Dame’sHessert Laboratory for Aerospace Research, where he is studying aeroacoustics, which is the science of how objects create noise in moving air. Berntsen graduated from Park High School in 2005.


The study of aeroacoustics, according to Park High School graduate Carl Berntsen, is an attempt to understand something fundamentally chaotic.

Berntsen, who graduated from Park High in 2005, is pursuing a doctorate in the field at the University of Notre Dame. This is his fourth year of studies in a field that currently has many questions and few answers.

“I like that I’m working in a field that is still limited by existing technology,” Berntsen, 25, said in a recent interview.

At the most basic level, he is trying to figure out how objects create noise in moving air and water, Berntsen said. 

The field’s applications include things like quieting airplanes and reducing noise from transport ships while they pass through whale habitat, he said.

But no “unified theory” of aeroacoustics yet exists, Berntsen said — meaning people like him to put in lots of hours studying acoustic phenomena in controlled environments as part of the effort to predict how sound behaves.

Berntsen said he enjoys the meticulous work of measuring sound.

“It’s weird to be in an environment that’s really different than any other place on the planet,” he said.

For the last three years, he has been taking measurements in an anechoic chamber — a controlled environment that cancels echoes. Without echoes, he is able to hone in on specific sounds created when air moves over selected objects.

Such environments don’t occur naturally anywhere on earth. 

His work requires him to study the interactions of molecules that behave differently every time they collide.

“There is actually chaos built into the interactions,” he said.

But engineers are apparently able to make some sense of it. His data will be used by the Office of Naval Research for research on submersibles, he said.

Berntsen described that work as a necessary task to “pay the bills.” Now that he has collected a bundle of data, he is ready to move into the realm of theory. 

His work in theory will be a part of getting a master’s degree from Notre Dame, after which he plans to obtain a doctorate. He obtained an undergraduate degree from Carroll College.

A youthful fascination with airplanes, combined with an early interest in science and math, contributed to his desire to study aeroacoustics, Berntsen said. 

A special engineering program at Carroll, which is designed to prepare students for doctorate studies, helped him get on the track he is on now, he added. He has also interned at Lockheed Martin in Florida.