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Finding Minnesota: Orfield Laboratories

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Think of all the sound you take in on a daily basis. Noise is an inescapable constant that often overshadows any silence. That's not the case at Orfield Laboratories in south Minneapolis, where one room is designed specifically for peace and quiet.

"It's about a sixteenth as loud as a quiet bedroom," Steve Orfield, owner of Orfield Laboratories said. "This is the anechoic chamber and the anechoic chamber is a completely absorbent room."

Orfield installed the anechoic chamber more than two decades ago for acoustic research. As a federally accredited acoustic lab, his company performs standardized testing and product research.

"We do all kinds of research for clients who want to, in some way, change their product to make it sound quieter or to make it sound better," Orfield said.

Testing product sound not only requires the removal of all background noise, it also requires no sound reflections within the room.

Creating the necessary silence is more complicated than throwing absorbent foam on the walls. The room is actually built with several layers around it.

The interior room walls are made of two layers of steel with insulation. Beyond that, there's a six-sided room that's completely suspended and isn't connected to the building, but rather sits in a pit.

Then there's an outer room which has another two layers of steel and insulation.

"This is a room, within a room, within a room which is why it's so quiet," Orfield said.

Fiberglass wedges cover every surface inside creating 100 percent absorption of sound frequencies and wavelengths.

It creates a space so quiet that visitors can almost feel the lack of sound.

"You feel a pressure on your ears and the pressure is not a pressure coming at you, it's a pressure going away from you," he said.

Noises you wouldn't normally hear are suddenly magnified. A pin drop on a carpet in the anechoic chamber has a distinct ping compared to the near noiseless pin drop in a normal room.

"You just never hear that real sound because you're hearing the room that it's dropping in and all the background noise," Orfield said.

The room is so quiet that its absence of sound has earned Steve worldwide recognition.

"Guinness calls us the quietest place on earth," he said. "We were surprised. We thought it was fun, we thought it was interesting."

The recognition brought notoriety and soon the anechoic chamber was more than a research facility, it became an attraction for those curious to see such a quiet space

"If you're in here for half an hour, you can hear blood flowing through veins. You can hear movement of your joints as you move arms and legs," he said.

Sound surrounds us but, in the Orfield anechoic chamber, it's the silence that's the ear opening experience.

The anechoic chamber is available for anyone wanting to take a tour and sit in silence themselves. For more information, click here.

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