Current Issue
April 2014 magazine cover
Subscribe

Save 81% off the newsstand price!

Keeping you current

(Credit: Jonathan Haeber)

Earth’s Quietest Place Will Drive You Crazy in 45 Minutes

Inside the room it's so silent that the background noise measured is actually negative decibels

Everybody seems to be looking for a little peace and quiet these days. But even such a reasonable idea can go too far. The quietest place on earth, an anechoic chamber at Orfield Laboratories in Minnesota, is so quiet that the longest anybody has been able to bear it is 45 minutes.

Inside the room it's silent. So silent that the background noise measured is actually negative decibels, -9.4 dBA. Steven Orfield, the lab's founder, told Hearing Aid Know: “We challenge people to sit in the chamber in the dark – one person stayed in there for 45 minutes. When it’s quiet, ears will adapt. The quieter the room, the more things you hear. You’ll hear your heart beating, sometimes you can hear your lungs, hear your stomach gurgling loudly. In the anechoic chamber, you become the sound."

But the room isn't just for torturing people. Companies test their products in it to find out just how loud they are. And NASA has sent astronauts to help them adapt to the silence of space. For you and me, however, the room is a deeply disorienting place. Not only do people hear their heartbeat, they have trouble orienting themselves and even standing. "How you orient yourself is through sounds you hear when you walk. In the anechnoic chamber, you don't have any cues," Orfield told the Daily Mail. "You take away the perceptual cues that allow you to balance and manoeuvre. If you're in there for half an hour, you have to be in a chair."

So the next time you wish for some quiet time, remember that it could also drive you crazy.

More from Smithsonian.com:

Why the Sun Was So Quiet for So Long
Why Golfers Might Need Earplugs

Tags
About Rose Eveleth
Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.

Read more from this author |

Comment on this Story

comments powered by Disqus