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How to survive earthquakes and noisy neighbours

By Jon Cartwright

The past few years has seen a steady stream of proposals for cloaking objects, whether it’s from light, heat, water waves, magnetic fields or even time. Now, physicist Sang-Hoon Kim at the Mokpo National Maritime University in Korea is adding to this list, first off with a cloak that could protect buildings from earthquakes.

An earthquake cloak has been proposed before using – as is common in invisibility cloaks – elaborately structured “metamaterials” to guide seismic waves safely around a building. However, Kim, together with Mukunda Das at the Australian National University in Canberra, has put forward a different approach: a metamaterial barrier that dissipates seismic energy as sound and heat. The idea is that many buildings could hide in the “shadow zone” of the barrier. This could be a boon for city planners, who would not have to make cloaks for individual buildings. Kim and Das’s paper has been accepted for publication in Modern Physics Letters B and is available as a preprint entitled “Artificial seismic shadow zone by acoustic metamaterials“.

Kim has also been working with colleague Seong-Hyun Lee at the Korea Institute of Machinery and Materials in Daejeon on an entirely different metamaterial concept – silencing noisy neighbours. Their idea for a soundproof window is based on a perforated acrylic block and “is so simple that any carpenter can make it”, they claim. And it’s tuneable, too. “For example, if we are in a combined area of sounds from sea waves of low frequency and noises from [machinery] operating at a high frequency, we can hear only the sounds from sea waves with fresh air.”

That sounds lovely in the summer, but it might get a bit draughty come winter with all those holes. The window is described in a preprint entitled “Air transparent soundproof window“.

Loyal readers of will know that this is not the first time someone has noticed that sound can be blocked by punching holes in a material. Back in 2008 we published the story “Holes prevent sound from passing through plate“.

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