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'Inaudibility Cloak' Is Theoretically Possible

Inaudibility cloaks, three-dimensional surfaces that are acoustically veiled, are theoretically possible. This according to a paper published by Steven Cummer, Jeffrey N. Vinik Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Duke's Pratt School of Engineering.

Note that this is different from the idea of noise cancellation in a defined area; science fiction fans may recall Arthur C. Clarke's Fenton silencer and Robert Heinlein's hush corner, among others.

An inaudibility cloak would allow the cloaked item to "disappear" within a sound field; sound waves would go around the object and then seamlessly merge on the other side, leaving no reflections or other traces.

"We’ve now shown that both 2-D and 3-D acoustic cloaks theoretically do exist," Cummer said. Although the theory used to design such acoustic devices so far isn't as general as the one used to devise the microwave cloak, the finding nonetheless paves the way for other acoustic devices, for instance, those meant to bend or concentrate sound. "It opens up the door to make the physical shape of an object different from its acoustic shape," he said.

My first thought is that this is a really cool idea (I'm an avid fan of invisibility cloaks, both science-fictional and real). My next thought was to wonder what in the world it would be good for.

I started thinking that it would be especially cool for biologists studying bats and other creatures that use echo-location. You could stand invisibly by. Of course, on the downside, you might have bats smacking into you.

However, it turns out that using the same kind of metamaterials that have produced working invisibility cloaks could be used in a theater to wrap around columns, making the sound flow in the room more perfect.

Also, the cold war is over, but enemy subs still slink through the seas. An inaudibility cloak could serve to hide our subs from enemy sonar.

Story from the Duke University press release 'Invisibility Cloaks' Could Break Sound Barriers; via Futurismic.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 1/11/2008)

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