The Meaning of “First Mode”

Leveraging “Natural Resonance” to Deliver Breakthrough Innovation

by the First Mode Team

Complexity as an Asset

There is no doubt that the world has become more complex. From the phone in our pockets to our robotic emissaries drilling on the surface of Mars, technology has changed how we interact with the world around us. When directed, that complexity can be an asset that creates innovative markets, improves people's lives, and explores new frontiers across our planet and solar system.

Our company, First Mode, was founded to build solutions that succeed in our world’s complex systems. We are able to innovate within this complexity thanks to our foundation of systems engineering (read more about the tools of System’s Engineering here). The name “First Mode” is a nod to our team’s deep engineering roots and commitment to systems engineering.

But what does “First Mode” mean?

All structures—such as spacecraft, vehicles, and buildings—have natural vibration frequencies at which they will deform, called resonance. Each natural frequency has an associated mode, a shape that describes the structure’s deformation. The lowest frequency at which deformation occurs is the first mode. The first mode is what often defines the highest loads in a structure or how that structure will interact with the rest of the system around it when vibrating.

An acoustic guitar string is a great example of why the first mode is important. A guitar string is tensioned across two supports, one on the neck and one on the body called the bridge. When plucked, the string vibrates in a half sine wave shape, its first mode. The string’s first mode has a frequency—a note—that is a result of its thickness, tension, and material. The string transfers that tone through the bridge into the body of the guitar to amplify the note for all to hear. 

Acoustic Guitar Comp.jpg

To play a higher note, the player holds the string down on a fret, shortening the string’s vibrating length and increasing the frequency. Despite the higher pitch, the string’s first mode is always a half sine wave shape allowing the string to efficiently transfer the vibrating sound energy into the guitar. The guitar is designed to take full advantage of this first mode behavior. 

Higher Amplitude, Enhanced Innovation

Identifying and understanding the first mode of a system or structure is critical to any design effort. Once this fundamental behavior is understood, the rest of the design process can evolve in a well-ordered way. This is emblematic of our systems engineering approach. We seek to understand a very complex problem first from its fundamental characteristic behaviors and can then break down the rest of the solution into solvable pieces. 

The founding members of First Mode realized from their previous experience working together that they too had found a natural frequency. By working together, our talents and expertise result in technical solutions that are stronger than the contributions of team members working alone. Our creative, systems-level approach to complex problems resonates with our clients.

Like all systems, First Mode has many natural frequencies. We are a growing company looking for talent that can complement the current team’s expertise. Interested in joining us? Keep an eye on our website for opportunities!