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Incredible Medicine: David Howard explains screaming on BBC2

Posted on 06/03/2017
David Howard

Screaming is one of the best weapons people have when it comes to fear - it can scare off predators, or alert people nearby that you need help. Most of the time, we don't even think about it; screaming is an automatic response from your nervous system when you encounter something dangerous or scary.

For Jill Drake, though, screaming is her claim to fame. She's the Guinness World Record Holder for the loudest scream, at 129 decibels, almost 30% louder than the average person. BBC Two's Incredible Medicine came to Royal Holloway this week to find out why Jill can scream so loudly.

Professor David Howard, Head of the new Department of Electronic Engineering at Royal Holloway is a leading expert in the human voice and explains how your body works when you scream.

"There are two vocal folds (chords)," explains Professor Howard. "When we're breathing the vocal chords are apart and the airway is unobstructed. When we want to speak or sing we move the vocal chords close together and then air is passed between them and the start to move towards each other and crash together. How much they crash together and at what force determines the loudness of the sound."

Using a Laryngograph, Professor Howard measured Jill's scream to find out why her scream is so loud. You can find out what he discovered by watching this clip on iPlayer.

Vocal specialisms at Royal Holloway

Professor David Howard, leads the Voice and Audio Group at Royal Holloway and works in the analysis and synthesis of singing, speech and music. His specific areas of interest include: digital speech and singing synthesis based on replicating virtual vocal tracts acquired from magnetic resonance imaging (MRI); voice pitch analyses for singing development, detection of babbling in infants to encourage speech learning, and the theoretical and practical analysis of tuning and pitch drift in a cappella (unaccompanied) choral singing.

Find out more about research and study opportunities in the Department of Electronic Engineering


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