Scientists Invent “Acoustic Metamaterial” that Block Sound, but Not Light or Air

Acoustic metamaterial: the magic baby of math and 3D printing. Image by Cydney Scott/Boston University
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Do you think you’ll sleep better at bush doofs and music festivals if your tent is soundproof? I know I would.

Unless I’m mistaken, soundproof tents aren’t quite a thing yet. But it seems they won’t be that far off into the future at all. That’s because a team of mechanical engineers from USA’s Boston University have created what they call “acoustic metamaterial.” This material is a small, lightweight object that can block off 94% of sound, but not light or air.

How can any object block off sound, but not light or air? Apparently, the magic was done by combining math and 3D printing. The Boston University team—made up of Reza Ghaffarivardavagh, Stephan Anderson, Jacob Nikolajczyk, and Xin Zhang—computed the specs and the dimensions that a material may need in order to reflect sound back to its source and still let air and light in. Then, they created the actual material using a 3D printer.

What came out was a doughnut-shaped object with ridges. As a test, the team fitted this 3D-printed ring onto one end of a PVC pipe and attached the other end to a sound system. No sound came out of the PVC pipe.

The acoustic metamaterial in action

So far, it’s been predicted that this new acoustic metamaterial sound-blocking device will be used to soundproof walls, minimise drone noise, or muffle MRI machines. But I wouldn’t mind seeing these things on a tent I can bring to a bush doof.

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