'Invisibility' cloak could protect buildings from earthquakes

Feb 14, 2012

University of Manchester mathematicians have developed the theory for a Harry Potter style 'cloaking' device which could protect buildings from earthquakes.

Dr William Parnell's team in the University's School of Mathematics have been working on the theory of invisibility cloaks which, until recently, have been merely the subject of .

In recent times, however, scientists have been getting close to achieving 'cloaking' in a variety of contexts. The work from the team at Manchester focuses on the theory of which could eventually help to protect buildings and structures from vibrations and such as earthquakes.

Writing in the A, Dr Parnell has shown that by cloaking components of structures with pressurised rubber, powerful such as those produced by an would not 'see' the building – they would simply pass around the structure and thus prevent serious damage or destruction. The building, or important components within it, could theoretically be 'cloaked'.

This 'invisibility' could prove to be of great significance in safeguarding key structures such as nuclear power plants, electric pylons and government offices from destruction from natural or terrorist attacks.

This is one of the latest 'cloaking' technologies to be developed – a technique which makes an object near-invisible to waves whether they be light, sound or vibration.

The science fiction concept of the of Invisibility is of course most famously known from the Harry Potter books and films. But according to scientists, the scientific reality is not far behind.

Initial research into cloaking from light waves began about six years ago, but very little work has been done on waves in solid bodies such as waves produced by earthquakes despite its fundamental importance in a number of areas including the protection of buildings and their components.

Dr Parnell said: "Significant progress has been made, both theoretically and practically in the area of cloaking.

"Five or six years ago scientists started with light waves, and in the last few years we have started to consider other wave-types, most importantly perhaps sound and elastic waves. The real problem with the latter is that it is normally impossible to use naturally available materials as cloaks.

"We showed theoretically that pre-stressing a naturally available material – rubber – leads to a cloaking effect from a specific type of elastic wave. Our team is now working hard on more general theories and to understand how this theory can be realised in practice.

"This research has shown that we really do have the potential to control the direction and speed of elastic waves. This is important because we want to guide such waves in many contexts, especially in nano-applications such as in electronics for example.

"If the theory can be scaled up to larger objects then it could be used to create cloaks to protect buildings and structures, or perhaps more realistically to protect very important specific parts of those structures."

Explore further: Hyperbolic homogeneous polynomials, oh my!

More information: Parnell, William J., 2012, “Nonlinear pre-stress for cloaking from antiplane elastic waves”, Proc. Roy. Soc. A 468: 563-580, doi:10.1098/rspa.2011.0477

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User comments : 12

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hyongx
2.7 / 5 (7) Feb 14, 2012
this article takes a reasonable article, extrapolates wildly and draws outrageous conclusions.
ComputerWiz
2.5 / 5 (2) Feb 14, 2012
I could see this research useful as a way to minimize the damage from an EMP.
gwrede
2.8 / 5 (9) Feb 14, 2012
Putting rubber around the foundation of a house used to be called insulating against vibration. Now it's called Cloaking. Maybe I should start calling my car bumper Crash Cloak. And when it gets freezing outside, I put on my long underwear, er, Cold Cloak. Oh, and next summer, don't forget to apply Sun Cloak.

And finally, what this website sorely needs, is a Dumb Cloak.

sstritt
3.3 / 5 (4) Feb 14, 2012
I could see this research useful as a way to minimize the damage from an EMP.

Already exists. Its called a Faraday cage.
axemaster
5 / 5 (1) Feb 14, 2012
I could see this research useful as a way to minimize the damage from an EMP.

Put a few layers of aluminum foil around your computer. Problem solved.
ComputerWiz
5 / 5 (1) Feb 14, 2012
EMPs would affect cars, trucks, trains, buses, signaling equipment, traffic control devices, electronic networks over thousands of miles, including control systems for power plants and transmission networks for power, not to mention tens of thousands of racks of servers, storage networks, etc.

Perhaps I erred in not mentioning these details, presuming the readers were intelligent enough to infer them. I apologize.
Telekinetic
1 / 5 (2) Feb 14, 2012
Tesla experimented with and was successful in making small oscillating devices that could be attached to a building and vibrate it to a frequency that would bring the building down. Now, in light of that, I would propose a tremor detecting sensor connected to an oscillating device that shakes the building counter to the external tremor's frequency, much like sound cancellation.
trekgeek1
not rated yet Feb 14, 2012
Tesla experimented with and was successful in making small oscillating devices that could be attached to a building and vibrate it to a frequency that would bring the building down. Now, in light of that, I would propose a tremor detecting sensor connected to an oscillating device that shakes the building counter to the external tremor's frequency, much like sound cancellation.


I'm a fan of Tesla, but I think that one is a rumor. Even if you hit the resonance frequency of the structure you have a device that is not very powerful so it must slowly build up the energy delivered to the structure by matching the frequency and adding to the structures amplitude with every cycle. The building will however dissipate some of that energy via air pressure, heat, etc. You'd need a device that could bring the amplitude to an appropriate magnitude while being able to supply enough power to overcome mechanical losses during the build up of amplitude.
Telekinetic
1 / 5 (3) Feb 14, 2012
There are no rumors when a man can create a lightning bolt of 135 feet long at a time when electrical capacitance was just born. He was discreet about his oscillators, I'm sure, knowing full well the havoc they could cause in the wrong hands.
Hengine
not rated yet Feb 15, 2012
Putting rubber around the foundation of a house used to be called insulating against vibration. Now it's called Cloaking. Maybe I should start calling my car bumper Crash Cloak. And when it gets freezing outside, I put on my long underwear, er, Cold Cloak. Oh, and next summer, don't forget to apply Sun Cloak.

And finally, what this website sorely needs, is a Dumb Cloak.



You're misunderstanding what they're actually doing with the waves and why it's comparable to a cloak. Take your house example, old technologies are relying on a dampening effect where vibrations are absorbed and the energy is slowed from reaching the subject. What they're doing now is actually directing vibrations away from the subject to wherever they want. Please cut the sarcasm.
Myno
3.7 / 5 (3) Feb 15, 2012
The problems for cloaking buildings from earthquake oscillations is more than just deflecting the seismic energy. One must also deflect the lawsuits from unprotected nearby buildings that claim the cloak transferred more vibration to their buildings. Hence the article's suggestion that this tech be applied to isolated high value assets such as power plants.
Sozzy
1 / 5 (2) Feb 20, 2012
Article:

"The science fiction concept of the Cloak of Invisibility is of course most famously known from the Harry Potter books and films."

Ummm, no. Maybe for the under 20 crowd. And maybe it's because I revile Harry Potter and everything it stands for (basically the cheapening, dismemberment and mass pop-commercialization of REAL fantasy, of which there is an ample and superb amount available), but other than my supreme bias against all things Potter, I suppose the author has never watched a single episode of Star Trek (e.g. Klignon bird of prey cloak) which is known the world over and precedes the Potter franchise by a few DECADES? No, he clearly hasn't.

I have scored a point for science today.

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