Sound waves could be used to quash fire

Two
engineering students at George Mason University have found a way to use sound
waves to quash fires and have built a type of extinguisher using what they have
learned that they hope will revolutionize firefighting technology. Viet Tran computer
engineering major and Seth Robertson, an electrical engineering major, chose to
investigate the possibility of using sound to put out fires as a senior
research project and now believe they have found something that might really
work.

The
fire extinguisher uses low-frequency sound waves to douse a blaze. Engineering
seniors Viet Tran and Seth Robertson now hold a preliminary patent application
for their potentially revolutionizing device (Image Credit: GMU)

Prior
research has shown that sound waves can impact fires, and other researchers,
such as those working for DARPA a couple of years ago, even investigated the
possibility of using sound to put out fires, but thus far, no sound based
extinguishers have been built and sold as a means to stop fires. The research
by the duo at GMU might change that.

As
the two students told members of the press, they started with the simple idea
that sound waves are also mechanical or pressure waves (due to the back and
forth motion of the medium in which they pass through), which can cause an
impact on objects. In this case, on the material that is burning and the oxygen
around it—if the two are separated by such waves, they reasoned, the fire would
have to go out. They took the trial-and error approach, aiming speakers at
small fires and sending out different types of sound at different frequencies.
Ultra-high frequencies did not have much impact, they noted, so they tried
going low—in the 30 to 60 Hertz range, and found that it did indeed cause fires
to go out.

Encouraged,
they took the idea further by building a portable device capable of focusing
the pressure waves directly at a fire. In essence, it is composed of an
amplifier, a power source and a collimator made out of cardboard tube (for
focusing the waves). The result is a reasonably small fire extinguisher that
works without the use of water or chemicals. Their initial impulse was to use
the extinguisher for small fires in the kitchen, but now believe it may have a
far wider use. The two students acknowledge that there is still a lot of work
to do before they will know if their extinguisher might be useful for fighting
real fires—thus far, it has only been tested on small alcohol flames. At issue
is whether it can be used on bigger fires, and because it does not have a
coolant, whether fires that go out, because the material will still be hot,
will reignite once the sound waves cease. (Source: GMU)

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