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Future Tech: 

Sound: fire’s worst enemy

drop the bass on fire

We’re all about that bass, ’bout that bass, ’bout that bass. No fire.

Forget water, foam or turning off the oxygen. Some bright sparks have come up with a new way to stop fire in its devastating tracks: a killer bass line.

Two engineers from George Mason University have developed a fire extinguisher that uses frequency sound to put out the flames, rather than traditional methods.

Just hold the cylinder close to the flames, turn it on and let the bass sound do the rest, as the video below demonstrates.

How does this fire extinguisher work? Sound waves displace some of the oxygen as they travel through the air, and oxygen fuels fire. Remove it, and the fire will snuff out. At the right frequency, the wave goes back and forth, agitating the air, and preventing the fire from reigniting. Clever stuff!

As with all inspiring stories, the designers – Viet Tran and Seth Robertson – were told it would never work. Neither are chemical engineers and were turned down by several faculty members who refused to supervise the project. Eventually they got the help of Professor Brian Mark, who according to the Washington Post, agreed to oversee the whole thing, and not to fail them if it flopped.

Initial experiments in ultra-high frequencies proved futile, just making the flames wobble to the beat, like a middle-aged relative at a wedding. 30-60 hertz turned out to be the sweet spot.

You may notice the device is a little on the small side. You’re correct – for now, it’s more for small-scale kitchen fires than terrifying forest blazes, but in the long run, there’s great potential: “I’d like to see this applied to swarm robots, where it would be attached to a drone and that would be applied to force fires or even building fires where you wouldn’t want to sacrifice human life,” says Tran. We’d like to see that too, because even if it doesn’t work – who doesn’t like a swarm of robots?

Still, their gamble worked, and the rewards are great. Robertson has been working at the Defense Department, and offered a job with the Air Force, while Tran has a job at an aerospace firm lined up. Oh, and they have the patent on this new firefighting technology to fall back on too.

“Some students take the safe path, but Viet and Seth took the higher-risk option,” said Mark, their project supervisor. It was a gamble that certainly paid off.

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