Scientists Say: Hertz

This unit of frequency measures how often something repeats each second


Tiny hummingbirds have wings and hearts that beat very quickly. The frequency can be measured in hertz.

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Hertz (noun, “HER-tz”)

This is a unit of frequency. Frequency is the number of times that an event occurs in a given length of time. For example, a hummingbird’s heart can beat (a periodic action) as fast as 1,260 times per minute. That’s a frequency. Scientists can measure that frequency in hertz. One hertz is equal to one cycle per second. If hummingbird’s heart beats at 1,260 beats per minute, that’s 21 beats per second, a frequency of 21 hertz.

Many things can be measured in hertz, from waves beating on a beach to the frequency of sounds. Our range of hearing extends from about 20 hertz (which we hear as a very low pitch) to 20,000 hertz (a very high pitch). So a hummingbird’s heart might sound like a very low hum.  

The unit hertz is named for Heinrich Rudolf Hertz, a German physicist who lived from 1857 to 1894. He proved the existence of electromagnetic waves — waves of energy including visible light, radio waves, microwaves and more. All of those waves can now be measured in hertz.

In a sentence

Playing sound frequencies around 25,000 hertz might annoy deer enough to keep them away from dangerous roads. 

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Bethany Brookshire was a longtime staff writer at Science News Explores and is the author of the book Pests: How Humans Create Animal Villains. She has a Ph.D. in physiology and pharmacology and likes to write about neuroscience, biology, climate and more. She thinks Porgs are an invasive species.

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