SONYC Project in Scholastic SuperScience: City Gone Silent

How the sounds of New York City changed in the first months of the Covid-19 pandemic.

New York City before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. Credits: Luciano Mortula - LGM/ (left); Noam Galai/Getty Images (right)

In 2016, NYU researchers, led by Juan Pablo Bello, director of the Center for Urban Science and Progress (CUSP), and professor of computer science and engineering, and electrical and computer engineering, began studying noise pollution in New York City using high-tech sensors. The project, Sounds of New York (SONYC) aims to identify loud sounds and pinpoint where they are coming from, in part through the use of citizen science, thanks to an online platform where people can help ID ambient noises picked up by the sensors placed around the city.  

During the project’s first four years, the sensors picked up sounds from things like traffic, roadwork, and street musicians. But in the spring of 2020, NYC became quiet when schools, stores, and offices closed to contain the pandemic. Rather than stifling — so to speak — the research, the 'COVID quietus' revealed new insights into NYC’s sounds. 

Also involved with SONYC are Tandon professors and CUSP faculty R. Luke DuBois, Oded Nov, and Claudio Silva.