In common use, the word noise means any unwanted sound. In both analog and digital electronics, noise is random unwanted perturbation to a wanted signal; it is called noise as a generalisation of the acoustic noise (“static”) heard when listening to a weak radio transmission with significant electrical noise. Signal noise is heard as acoustic noise if the signal is converted into sound (e.g., played through a loudspeaker); it manifests as “snow” on a television or video image. High noise levels can block, distort, change or interfere with the meaning of a message in human, animal and electronic communication.

Acoustic noise

In relation to sound, noise is not necessarily random. Sounds, particularly loud ones, that disturb people or make it difficult to hear wanted sounds, are noise. For example, conversations of other people may be called noise by people not involved in any of them; any unwanted sound such as domesticated dogs barking, neighbours playing loud music, portable mechanical saws, road traffic sounds, or a distant aircraft in quiet countryside, is called noise.Acoustic noise can be anything from quiet but annoying to loud and harmful. At one extreme users of public transport sometimes complain about the faint and tinny sounds emanating from the headphones or earbuds of somebody listening to a portable audio player; at the other the sound of very loud music, a jet engine at close quarters, etc. can cause permanent irreversible hearing damage.

Electronic noise

Electronic noise exists in all circuits and devices as a result of thermal noise, also referred to as Johnson Noise. It is caused by random variations in current or voltage caused by the random movement of charge carriers (usually electrons) carrying the current as they are jolted around by thermal energy. Thermal noise can be reduced by reducing the temperature of the circuit. This phenomenon limits the minimum signal level that any radio receiver can usefully respond to, because there will always be a small but significant amount of thermal noise arising in its input circuits. This is why radio telescopes, which search for very low levels of signal from space, use front-end low-noise amplifier circuits cooled with liquid nitrogen.There are several other sources of noise in electronic circuits such as shot noise, seen in very low-level signals where the finite number of energy-carrying particles becomes significant, or flicker noise (1/f noise) in semiconductor devices.

Visual noise

Noise is also present in images. Electronic noise will be present in camera sensors, and the physical size of the grains of film emulsion creates visual noise. This kind of noise is referred to as “grain.”Noise is also used in the creation of 2D and 3D images by computer. Sometimes noise is added to images to hide the sudden transitions inherent in digital representation of color, known as “banding”. This adding of noise is referred to as “dithering.” Sometimes noise is used to create the subject matter itself. Procedural noise (such as Perlin noise) is often used to create natural-looking variation in computer generated images.

Vibrational noise

The Earth ground and the built environment are subjected to permanent vibrations commonly referred to as seismic noise but nowadays preferably called Ambient Vibrations. These vibrations have natural (ocean waves, wind…) and anthropogenic (traffic, machines…) origins depending on the considered frequency range. These vibrations may be disturbing for people (housing close to railway tracks…) and even cause solidian noise (acoustic noise created by particular vibrations of solids like rooms) but they are also used (recorded) to characterize the structures (civil engineering structure, underground) they are shaking in terms of dynamic properties and eventually physical properties.

Noisy genes

The activity and regulation of our genes are also subject to noise. Transcriptional noise refers to the variability in gene activity between cells in genetically identical populations (even identical twins are non-identical). Noise in gene activity has tremendous consequences on cell behaviour, and must be mitigated or integrated. Noise impacts upon the effectiveness of clinical treatment, with resistance of bacteria to antibiotics demonstrably caused by non-genetic differences. Variability in gene expression may also contribute to resistance of sub-populations of cancer cells to chemotherapy. In certain contexts, such as the survival of microbes in rapidly changing stressful environments, or several types of scattered differentiation, noise may be essential.



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