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New metamaterial discovered that can (almost) block all sound

It reduces incoming noise by 94%, making it inaudible to the human ear.

sound dampening material being used in studio
Image: Unsplash

We’ve all got that one noise in our daily lives that we’d rather be without. Whether it’s the badly-maintained A/C in your tiny apartment, that subway track that goes past your bedroom window or the ear-shattering voice of Janice down in accounts (sorry Janice!), our daily existence would be immeasurably improved by the absence of those irritations.

Now, thanks to a team of researchers at Boston University, the peaceful future is a step closer. They’ve developed a 3D-printed acoustic metamaterial that essentially reflects most of a sound back at its source. What makes this material even cooler is that it’s essentially open, so light can pass through, just not sound.

The researchers also say the metamaterial can be printed into any shape, not just round sections, making it perfect for partition walls, drone propellers, even things like jet engines.

Check it out

The material was tested by funneling a high-pitched noise from a loudspeaker through a 3D-printed ring of the metamaterial, and the difference is “literally night and day.” It might not block all the sound, but it certainly turns a horrible racket into a more tolerable volume. Since the material reflects back sound, surely stacking two sections will reduce the incoming noise even more.

If scaled up, the metamaterial could be put in transit tunnels or any other echoey space to make it safer for our ears. Current methods of noise blocking are either personal (like earmuffs) or space-consuming and ugly (like acoustic foam). With the ability to tune this for any application, any space, it makes it easier for architects and interior designers to give us blessed silence. Imagine cubicles built with this, making the open-plan office bearable again. Bathrooms that you never have to hear another flush from. No more constant droning from low-flying aircraft.

I can’t wait for this technology to arrive, in the meantime, I’ll be using my favorite noise-canceling headphones at all times.

What do you think? Is there a future for this material? Let us know down below in the comments or carry the discussion over to our Twitter or Facebook.

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