The CymaScope, Q&A with John Stuart Reid

The CymaScope, CymaScope, Making Sound Visible

Our exploration to further describe the cymatics of sound continues here with an interview with acoustics pioneer, John Stuart Reid, inventor of the CymaScope, to discuss ancient knowledge, sound principles and cymatics.

John Stuart Reid is an English acoustics engineer, scientist and inventor. He has studied the world of sound for over 40 years and speaks extensively on his research findings to audiences throughout the United States and the United Kingdom. John’s work is inspired by acoustic pioneers, Ernst Chladni, Mary D. Waller and Hans Jenny, and has taken their findings to a new level. His primary interests lie in investigating sound as a formative force and discovering why sound has healing properties.

Cymatics Review

Put simply, cymatics is the name given to the phenomenon that — when sound encounters a membrane, such as your skin or the surface of water, it imprints a pattern of energy. Although invisible to the naked eye the patterns, which are often beautiful, can be made visible with special techniques.

Using the holographic principles of sound and cymatics, the CymaScope team, led by John Stuart Reid, has developed the CymaScope, which represents a new breed of scientific instrument that transcribes the periodic vibrations in sounds to periodic wavelets in water, therefore making sound visible.

When the microscope and telescope were invented, they opened vistas on realms that were not even suspected to exist. The fields of biology and cosmology would have remained closed to us without these instruments. The CymaScope is the first instrument to give a visual analog of sound (as distinct from a graphic representation given by electronic instruments such as the oscilloscope).

In Reid’s opinion, the CymaScope holds the same potential for advancement as the microscope and telescope and its applications are soon likely to touch many aspects of the human endeavor. Visit their website at for more information on the CymaScope.

The Cymascope, John Stuart Reid, Cymatics, Sound

Q&A with John Stuart Reid inventor of the CymaScope

Q1. Is scientific authority respected for the wrong reasons? Have we marginalized scientific authority to a fancy title and language, instead of the quality of solutions provided? As such, does the scientific community take advantage of this position to pursue self-interests whilst avoiding solutions that challenge status-quo understandings?

A: From my perspective members of the scientific community can be subject to the same flaws as members of all other categories of society, even though the peer review process aims at rigour and fairness, it seems that it is not always achieved. As with all expert and authority figures we should exercise our best judgement and inner voice before granting our credibility, and give respect where we think respect is due, not as a ‘given’. While individual scientists are no more immune to self-interest than anyone else it is common knowledge that giant corporations are sometimes the worst offenders when it comes to discrediting any scientific discovery or direction that does not serve their profits. However, borrowing from Desiderata, “…the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals…”

Q2. At Conceptual Revolutions we hold the viewpoint that past imaginative geniuses often had diverse interests and broad knowledge and gave little consideration to what we might call technical mechanics, in other words to the “specializations” which are often emphasized today to preserve the status-quo. What is your feeling towards specialization? Does a lack of broad knowledge prevent new scientific realities from emerging? 

A: Specialization is essential when it comes to developing high technologies simply because the challenges faced in developing such exquisite technologies require it: for example, the piece of high technology that billions of people carry around in a pocket, a mobile phone, or the example of a computer, a flat screen television, or satellite technology that facilitates the internet and worldwide communications.  All of these inventions and technologies required teams of specialists to develop the devices to the point where they could be useful to humanity. An individual could never have achieved such results, primarily because most human lifetimes are not long enough to develop all aspects of these high technologies.

However, specialist scientific teams are less likely to put the pieces of giant scientific ‘jigsaws’ together. Historically, discoveries have been made by individuals who amassed a broad knowledge and were able to see a matrix of observations that led them to put the pieces of a particular puzzle together, to arrive at a ground-breaking invention or discovery. The famous scientist, Peter Plitcha, in his book God’s Secret Formula, said, “The frontiers of human knowledge have always been pushed back by the individual, not by teams or by heavily-subsidized research programmes…a person who can pursue the quest for truth without the pressures and constraints of institutionalised science, and who can furthermore combine expert knowledge from a variety of disciplines.”

Einstein, Specialization, Albert Einstein, Broad Knowledge, genuine, Polymath, Satellite

Q3. Richard Feynman once said, “There’s pleasure in discovering old things from a new viewpoint” Do you believe a significant amount of ancient knowledge has been misinterpreted and/or lost?

A: There is growing evidence that ancient peoples had areas of knowledge that are only now being rediscovered by humanity. An example allied to my own field of acoustics is that of the Aboriginals of Australia who have used the sounds of the ‘yidaki’ (the modern name is didgeridoo) to accelerate the healing of bone fractures and to assist with a range of common illnesses, possibly as far back as 40,000 years ago according to the Aboriginal’s oral traditions. While ultrasound (high frequency sound) is a mainstream healing modality that emerged in the 1950’s and is used today to support bone fractures and soft injury trauma, the field of audible sound healing is only just beginning to be explored by medical science.

One study titled “The Felid Purr: A bio-mechanical healing mechanism” was presented at the 12th International Conference on Low Frequency Noise and Vibration, held in Bristol, UK, in September 2006. The study’s focus was the phenomenon of the low frequency purring of injured cats that appeared to speed their healing process.  The results of the study were summarised by the statement that vibrations between 20-140 Hz are therapeutic for bone growth/fracture healing, pain relief/swelling reduction, wound healing, muscle growth and repair/tendon repair, mobility of joints and the relief of dyspnea, among other conditions, and confirming that audible sound is, indeed, healing.

Felix the cat, cats, cat, Low Frequency Noise and Vibration, The Felid Purr,
Pythagoras also believed in the healing power of sound, in the form of music, and today music therapy is emerging as a mainstream modality, assisting patients physically, mentally, aesthetically and spiritually confirming what Pythagoras knew around 2500 years ago.

Summarising your question, there are many examples of ancient knowledge that have been discounted in the recent past but are now being rediscovered or re-evaluated. I think an important lesson we would be wise to draw upon is not to judge ancient knowledge without first studying it.

Q4While sounds have been known to have several healing effects, noise pollution can cause serious stresses in a person’s life. In fact, changes in the immune system and birth defects have often been attributed to excess noise exposure. How can a better understanding of the geometric properties of sound be used to prevent environmental stress created by noise pollution? See a Noise: A Health Problem by Dr. William H. Stewart, former U.S. Surgeon General for an expanded view on noise pollution. Here

A: Over-exposure to any form of energy is harmful. Sunlight provides a good example; if we bathe in the sun for a few minutes its health-giving benefits are numerous, but overexposure can be very harmful, sometimes leading to carcinomas. The same principle holds true for sound.  If we bathe in beautiful music or pure tones at specific frequencies, sound offers many healing benefits, but at high levels, sound and noise can be destructive to human beings. An extreme example is the use of sonic weapons, developed by several countries. Such weapons are able to kill or at least disorient an enemy, using only sound of very high intensity. 

High levels of ambient noise are not usually sufficient to disorient people but continued exposure to noise has been shown to cause hearing impairment, hypertension, ischemic heart disease and sleep disturbance. These and other adverse effects could be avoided if society was more aware of the dangers. As with so many risks to health, better education is the key. Most western countries have legislation to govern noise pollution but protection is often limited to employees and does not include non-employees.

The CymaScope can help illustrate these types of risks by graphically making visible the geometry of clean sounds versus the skewed geometry of noisy and distorted sounds. ‘Beauty begets beauty’ in the imagery and conversely, ugly sounds create ugly imagery. But the comparisons go far deeper than the macro realm. Sound affects every cell in our bodies and we are now working to make visible the sound on the surface of living cells.

Q5. One of the most famous musical instrument brand in the world is the Stradivarius. These violins and cellos were created in the 17th-18th century and above all, were famous for their quality of sound produced. Many say that its sounds have never been reproduced by any modern-day musical instrument. While some research points to wood preservatives used in that day as contributing to the resonant qualities, do you think Cymatics could have been used in the instrument’s creation. And, how can Cymatics impact music going forward? See how the CymaScope instrument was used to visualize 12 piano notes for the first time, here 

A: Although there is some evidence that Tibetan gong makers have used Cymatic principles in the tuning of their gongs for over a thousand years and although we know that Leonardo da Vinci and Galileo Galilei were both aware of the phenomenon of Cymatics, there is no evidence, as far as I am aware, that musical instrument makers of the Renaissance and later periods used this method of tuning or as a means of improving their instruments. However, Cymatics technology is perhaps the most wonderful tool yet invented to support music because it allows us to see a hitherto invisible level of beauty in the music. Without Cymatics we would never have known that the sounds of musical instruments contained such beauty and geometric perfection.

In the future I have no doubt that the concept of visible sound will be used by musical instrument manufacturers to hone the designs of their instruments. For example, we are working with a piano company who are using CymaScope imagery to improve each note’s sustain(how long a note lingers) and other attributes of their pianos. And Cymatics is set to help profoundly deaf people, and other challenged people, in their appreciation of music by means of the CymaScope app for iPhone and iPad, which we currently have in development.

Q6. Scientists at Argonne National Laboratory have discovered a way to use sound to levitate individual droplets of solutions. How do you explain this phenomenon to the layman observer? See the video Here 

A: All audible sounds, including those created vocally by people, propagate in a bubble-like form (not as a wave-like form as is popularly thought). As the frequency of sound goes beyond the upper range of human hearing, say to the high frequencies used by bats or dolphins, the bubble becomes increasingly flattened until it resembles a searchlight beam in its shape. At even higher frequencies (classified as ‘ultrasound’) sound begins to resemble a laser beam in its shape.

Dolphin, Sound Beam, UltrasoundBeam, Dolphin Communication, SpeakDolphin

Within these extremely narrow beams of sound there are regions of low pressure air, known as ‘nodes’, and regions of high pressure air, termed ‘antinodes’. High pressure sounds can exert force on small objects and if a matrix of such beams is arranged, an object can be moved up, down, and laterally to any position within the matrix area. (Bear in mind that the objects that can be moved in this way are very small, such as a pea or a drop of water.) The other experiment that is commonly shown in online science videos is a vertically-oriented ultrasound beam. A small object is placed in a nodal position in the beam, causing it to levitate in the low pressure region between two of the high pressure antinodes.

When the laser was invented someone said “It’s wonderful, but what use is it?” But today lasers are in common use and it is hard to imagine how we ever did without them. I suspect that people are asking the same question now about ultrasound and its ability to levitate and position small objects: “It’s wonderful, but what use is it?” All we need is a little imagination!

Sound levitating, Sound, Cymatics, Levitation

Q7. One of the most famous sites in the world, Stonehenge, is the remains of a ring of standing stones set within earthwork. Recently, a team of researchers from London’s Royal College of Art (RCA) have discovered the stones used to construct Stonehenge hold musical properties and when struck, sound like bells, drums and gongs. What is your view on these findings? See the article here 

A: I have little doubt that ancient peoples were fascinated by some of sound’s strange properties. If anyone today makes sound in a cave and hears a voice echo they would think nothing of it because we know that sound bounces off hard surfaces and reflects many times, creating ‘mirror images’ of our words. But people in ancient times almost certainly thought of the echo as a magic effect or perhaps as linking them with the spirit world. When ancient people made stone burial chambers such enclosed spaces (naturally) also exhibited reverberative qualities and again we can only imagine how these acoustic effects were interpreted by the ancient builders. (In prehistory there was no written language so we have no direct way to know their thoughts on this subject).

A study of ancient burial mounds of Britain and Ireland by Robert Jahn of Princeton University concluded, in essence, that many of the chambers tested had resonant properties around 110 Hertz, (which is easily sounded by a male vocalist). He was persuaded of the possibility that the ancient peoples may have chanted in the chambers and therefore that the reverberative qualities of the spaces may have been specifically designed, rather than the result of happy accidents. All of this supports the notion that the builders of Stonehenge may also have been aware of the resonant properties of stone.

A team from Reading University in the UK performed a series of acoustics measurements in Stonehenge that showed that sounds made in the interior of the monument were reflected back into the central area due to (they assumed) the deliberate concavity on the inside surfaces of the giant stones. In other words, the builders contrived to enhance the monument’s acoustic properties by creating a system of giant acoustic reflectors.

Regarding the team from London’s Royal College of Art, concerning the ringing of stones when struck, this feature only works for ‘small’ stones (of a few tons or less) and even then, only for stones that are largely isolated/decoupled from the ground by their physical attitude, for example, if they happen to be laying on a sharp edge so that most of the stone is free to vibrate. Standing stones, on the other hand, are not able to ring like a bell because they are hugely damped by being ‘plugged-in’ to the earth. But archaeology has shown that many ancient people, throughout pre-history, made use of isolated stones, or isolated them deliberately to create sounds; although in most cases we have no way of knowing for sure what beliefs they held regarding the sounds they created in this way.

My own acoustics experiments in the Great Pyramid, published in a booklet titled Egyptian Sonics, led me to conclude that the ancient Egyptians had more than a rudimentary knowledge of acoustics. I was privileged to have been permitted to conduct the study and the results could be the subject of another interview with Critical Shadows at some point.

Q8. The CymaScope instrument is underpinned by the holographic principle that maintains all points in sound bubbles contain the information needed to describe the entire sound bubble. If all points in the sound bubble contain the same information, how do they differ from each other? 

A: In terms of the vibrational information that each air particle (whether an atom or molecule) in the sound bubble holds, there is no difference at all between them. The only aspect of the air particles that differs from one to the next is in their trajectory. A given sound bubble contains trillions of atoms and molecules and each particle carries exactly the same vibrational data but the direction of travel for each atom and molecule is different, naturally, because the leading edge of the bubble requires it to be multidirectional to form the 3D expansion.

In the CymaScope we use the surface of pure water as a membrane onto which a sound is imprinted. The long wavelengths of sound manifest on the water’s surface as short wavelets, in a sense the long sound vibrations have been condensed and transcribed to water wavelets, which we can think of as a cross section through the sound bubble. I call these cross sections “CymaGlyphs” to denote a sound pattern made visible.

Q9. Your team recently made a fascinating breakthrough in the field of dolphin language research. As such, is the CymaScope team working with any other projects in Zoology? And, if so, which project most intrigues you?

A: Our research into dolphin language, which is in collaboration with Jack Kassewitz of, remains our primary Oceanography/Zoological research project. The dream of holding a conversation with another sentient species is now a big step closer to reality, thanks to the CymaScope instrument. When that day comes, we may be surprised (and perhaps not pleasantly) by what they might have to say to us, given humanity’s history of ill treatment of their species. However, I am happy to hear that man.y strides are now being made to improve the way dolphins and whales are protected, so if such interspecies communication does become possible we can (hopefully) anticipate having positive forms of ‘communication’ with them. 

Speakdolphin, Dolphin, Dolphins, Cymatics, Sound Bubbles, Sound Beams, CymaScope, Communication, Images, Sound Images
We have experimentally imaged a range of other animal and bird sounds and there is no doubt in my mind that the CymaScope holds the potential to open up new fields of study in animal and bird communications, although in-depth studies will need to be accomplished by other researchers since our main focus with animal communications will remain with the dolphin, at least for the foreseeable future.

A dolphin in New Mexico recently began mimicking human sounds, as if attempting to speak, and we have imaged some of those sounds, recorded by Jack Kassewitz, which resemble a series of human vowel sounds. Readers of Conceptual Revolutions interested in learning more about our dolphin language research may wish to read our article titled “Conversations with Dolphins” which is available from our web store:


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    By: DorfmanAdam

    Curiosity is something that drives us to find answers along our unique life paths. For me, Adam B. Dorfman, that path began with an MBA at the University of Toronto and with several years in the capital markets before he began to explore emerging sciences. Adam then founded the website Concept Evolution to explore these new scientific concepts, with a healthy skepticism, and has since added an exceptional team of writers, with strong scientific backgrounds, to help him. The team at Concept Evolution is extremely passionate to follow these emerging studies, while exploring the philosophy of science, as these immature sciences, become mature scientific fields.

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