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Sound Games

By Caitlin Friess

sound games

Last summer junior Valerie Rennoll, BS audio technology and physics ’16, had the opportunity to take a video game to the next level: training US Navy sonar operators.

Rennoll worked with Applied Research in Acoustics (ARiA), an acoustics research and development company, to create WaveQuest, an underwater acoustics video game for sonar operators. The game uses real-time simulations to encourage a physical understanding of underwater acoustics.

“Players are presented with a number of missions and become scientists in control of a research submarine,” says Rennoll. “They are able to explore the ocean environment and complete missions using sonar and other acoustical tools.”

Her task was to generate ambient ocean noise models—a symphony of sounds created by ship movements, rain, and wind—for incorporation into the WaveQuest software, and then to assist in testing the software.

Rennoll also helped maintain a fish distribution and behavior database at ARiA. In addition, she worked with the company’s chief scientist to form Sound Foundation, a nonprofit that provides STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) and business education to high school students through real-world acoustics projects.

“The environment at ARiA was very welcoming, and I learned a lot,” says Rennoll. “It was a great way to get outside the classroom and gain hands-on experience. It solidified my interest in acoustics, particularly underwater acoustics, and I am planning to pursue a graduate degree in this field. Afterwards, I would like to be involved with acoustics research at a national research facility or university.”

In spring 2014, Rennoll received the Outstanding Audio Technology Sophomore Award and the Sophomore Physics Award. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) awarded her an Ernest F. Hollings Undergraduate Scholarship, which provides an annual stipend for her last two years at AU and financial support for a summer research internship.

Physics department chair Nate Harshman says that Rennoll well deserves the awards. “Valerie is a great student. She somehow balances being very detail oriented without losing sight of the big picture. That same trait has also made her a great teaching assistant for the physics department. It’s a pleasure to experience her curiosity for the subject.”

Rennoll already has an internship lined up for next summer: She’ll be working at NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey, where she will create maps of the ocean floor using data collected with sonar—including data she’ll help to gather in the Arctic aboard a hydrographic research ship. “This opportunity will enable me to extend my learning beyond the classroom,” she says, “while also being part of an exciting research experience.”