Science & Technology

Evil Rays

University students extinguish fires with heavy bass

© Youtube
Extinguishing fire with sound
It's 2025, and a team of firefighters arrive on the scene of a massive conflagration. There's trucks and ladders, but also a team of drones tethered to a massive generator. As the drones swarm the flames, they blast a guttural roar that sounds like the unholy offspring of a bullfrog and a lawnmower. Firefighters follow up with hoses and foam, and within minutes, nothing but wisps of smoke are curling up from cooling embers.

That vision of the future could be possible thanks to a small, sound-powered fire extinguisher developed by two college seniors, Viet Tran and Seth Robertson, both at George Mason University in Virginia. Tran was searching for an idea for a class project when he stumbled upon an old DARPA project that used sound waves to put out a small fire. The device was rather large—a person certainly couldn't hold it. So he and Robertson set out to make it more practical.

Their extinguisher resembles an antique milk can connected to a well-ventilated amp. A bass speaker sits atop the barrel, which amplifies and directs the sound waves. Tom Jackman, reporting for the Washington Post, has more details:
They placed flaming rubbing alcohol next to a large subwoofer and found that it wasn't necessarily all about that bass, musically speaking, at least. "Music isn't really good," Robertson said, "because it doesn't stay consistent."

They tried ultra-high frequencies, such as 20,000 or 30,000 hertz, and could see the flames vibrating but not going out. They took it down low, and at the range of 30 to 60 hertz, the fires began to extinguish.

"I honestly didn't think it would work as well as it did," Tran said.
The extinguisher works by pulsing air across the base of the flame, the boundary layer at which the combusted material produces the flame itself. The deep sound produces successive blasts of air which disrupt the process of combustion. Eventually, the flame peters out.


Designers create a new world of exotic musical instruments

© MONAD Studio / Eric Goldemberg / Veronica Zalcberg
Piezoelectric Violin
Next month, visitors to the Inside 3D Printing conference at the Javits Center in New York City will have the chance to see - and hear - one of the most radical musical instruments ever created. Or should that be 'printed'? The two-string Piezoelectric Violin is the brainchild of architects Eric Goldemberg and Veronica Zalcberg of Miami's MONAD studio, in collaboration with multi-instrumentalist Scott F Hall, who has been dreaming up ways to fabricate exotic instruments since the 1990s.

"Our desire to create unusual instruments emerged when we realised the aesthetic and technical issues we were facing as architects did not differ much from those of musicians and composers," Goldemberg tells me. He and Zalcberg were interested to explore a "new conception for violin core functionality", and the instrument - which will be exhibited alongside other curious sonic specimens including their take on the cello, a 'hornucopia', and Hall's 'monobaribasitar' - is the result of "intense research on design and computation, leading to direct engagement with musicians, luthiers, composers and interactive artists of different kinds".

Comment: The world of classical music is moving into the future with more instruments being re-designed: Gergely Bogányi's classical piano makeover


Solar system-wide climate change: Bizarre bulge discovered on Jupiter moon Ganymede

A bizarre bulge approximately half as tall as Mount Kilimanjaro has been found on Ganymede, the largest moon in the solar system, and the unusual feature may have something to do with the subsurface ocean recently discovered on the Jovian satellite, according to reports.

The bulge is approximately 375 miles wide and nearly two miles tall, io9 said on Friday, and its cause and purpose currently have astronomers puzzled. Paul Schenk, a planetary scientist at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston, said he came across the feature by accident.

Schenk, who reported his findings at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference on March 20, explained to National Geographic that he was attempting to complete the global mapping of the moon's surface when he spotted the lump, which appears to be made out of thick ice.

The feature suggests that at one time, Ganymede's icy shell rotated atop the rest of the moon. Schenk believes that the bulge began growing at one of the poles, and then moved into a different position once its mass grew large enough. The shell slid atop the ocean, while the interior of the moon stayed in the same orientation, causing it to wind up at the equator.


Top ten breathtaking pictures of Mars from orbit

© NASA / JPL-Caltech / University of Arizona
Hematite in Capri Chasma
Mars exploration isn't all about Curiosity and Opportunity rovers. NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has snapped loads of beautiful hi-resolution images of the red planet's surface since 2006.

The spacecraft, which is operated by the University of Arizona, is equipped with a $40 million HiRISE (High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment) camera.

The device is the largest aperture reflecting telescope ever sent on a space mission, and is capable of taking 0.3 megapixel pictures.

Mars is known as the red planet, but the HiRISE images have been enhanced by 'false coloring,' which helps scientists track changes on the planet's surface.


Made in Canada: Maple Syrup to digital killing machines

The Canadian army has actually made the gun from Halo
Of all the many things our country is known for producing - maple syrup, hockey stars, ketchup chips, snow — "firearms" have never really been associated with Canadian innovation.
Unless you include the article by H.P. Albarelli Jr. as he writes 'Who killed Gerald Victor Bull? Mystery still shrouds murder of American who helped arm Iraq'.
In many ways, Bull's story reads like a Tom Clancy novel gone amok. It is replete with enough codenames, secret and double agents, arms dealers, exotic weapons and strange deaths to split the seams of any conspiracy pinata.
Canada did not invent the gun, nor do its citizens even have the constitutional right to carry one without a license, proper training and a thorough background check.

So why is Canada being credited this week for shaping "the future of firearms?"

Because it appears to be true, that's why.


Animals CAN predict earthquakes: Scientists video behavioural changes as seismic activity increases


For the first time, scientists have filmed the behaviour of wild animals in Peru prior to a quake and believe their study could help improve short-term seismic forecasting. This still shows a Razor-billed curassow
For centuries there have been accounts of animals behaving bizarrely before earthquakes.

Now, for the first time, scientists have filmed the behaviour of wild animals prior to a quake and believe their study could help improve short-term seismic forecasting.

They found that animals in Peru - such as pumas and razor-billed curassow birds - ran for cover days before the event.

Researchers believe that the changes in behaviour may be linked to airborne ions.


Freedom in the clouds: Russia unveils Flying House project

Russian designers have presented a visual concept of a state-of-the-art house which they claim will be capable of flying.

A visual concept of a sophisticated new home which will be capable of floating through the air has been showcased by Russian designers, who claim that the house can also be used as a summer cottage and a small airship, media reports said.

The Freedom house, which has first and foremost been designed for so-called citizens of the world, can be installed almost anywhere on our planet — in the woods, at sea, on the coast, in the mountains, and in an urban area, according to Dmitry Ulitin and Anstasiya Taratuta of the design studio

The owner of this house will be able to make him or herself at home while soaring through the clouds, a dream that now may finally come true.


Low-frequency sound-based fire extinguisher puts out flames

© Youtube video by George Mason University
Two engineering students from George Mason University are using the unique power of sound to put out flames - and they're hoping the technology will become powerful enough to help extinguish forest fires.

The sound-based fire extinguisher they recently demoed uses low-frequency sound waves to take out flames. In a video posted on YouTube, students Viet Tran and Seth Robertson demonstrated their booming new device.

"I see this device being applied to a lot of things. First off, I think in the kitchen, it could be on top a stove top," said Tran, who also imagines far bigger uses for the technology.

"Eventually, I'd like to see this applied to swarm robotics, where it'd be attached to a drone, and that would be applied to forest fires or even building fires where you wouldn't want to sacrifice human life."

Comment: Interesting idea but the power requirement can be a limiting factor.


New Theory Suggests Quantum Effects Caused by Interacting Parallel Worlds

© Interplay of Quantum Physics
A new theory of quantum mechanics presumes not only that parallel worlds exist, but also that their mutual interaction is what gives rise to all quantum effects observed in nature.
The theory, first published by Professor Bill Poirier four years ago, has recently attracted attention from the foundational physics community, leading to an invited Commentary in a top-ranking physics journal, Physical Review X.

According to Poirier's theory, quantum reality is not wave-like at all, but is comprised of multiple, classical-like worlds. In each of these worlds, every object has very definite physical attributes, such as position and momentum. Within a given world, objects interact with each other classically. All quantum effects, on the other hand, manifest as interactions between "nearby" parallel worlds.


New evidence may identify mystery object at Milky Way galaxy's core

© ESO/A. Eckart
This annotated composite image shows the motion of the dusty cloud G2 as it closes in, and then passes, the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way, and remains compact. The blobs have been colorized to show the motion of the cloud, red indicated that the object is receding and blue approaching. The cross marks the position of the supermassive black hole.
New observations may finally reveal the identity of a mystery object circling around the monster black hole at the center of our Milky Way galaxy — or not.

Known to many as "G2," the unidentified object could be a cloud of gas, or it could be a star, depending on who you ask. Discovered in 2011, G2 captured the attention of scientists because it was on its way to making a tight swing around the black hole — potentially providing the dark monster with a snack. You can see a video of G2's movement here.

The new observations of G2 show that it has remained compact during its swing around the black hole, according to the authors of the new research. Since a gas cloud would likely be smeared out by the gravitational pull of the black hole, the scientists conclude that the object is a star. But the group that discovered G2 says the new results are not enough to make a definitive statement about the identity of this peculiar blob.