Documenting the Coming Singularity

Saturday, June 27, 2009

How to hide buildings from earthquakes

Editor's note: Science fiction has long been fascinated with the idea of the cloaking device. But that's only because human beings have long had the occasional need to hide. The most oft-dreamed-of capability is that of making oneself invisible to others while moving about freely among them. So scientists have been working on ways to accomplish just that, focusing on fashioning materials that allow light waves to pass over and around them without being deflected or reflected. Now, scientists are concentrating on other types of waves: The storm waves of tsunamis and the seismic waves of earthquakes.

NewScientist - June 26, 2009, by Colin Barras

Invisibility cloak could hide buildings from quakes

After effects of a major earthquake in Sichuan province, Central China. Could future buildings be protected using the physics of invisibility cloaks? (Image: Sipa Press / Rex Features)

Borrowing from the physics of invisibility cloaks could make it possible to hide buildings from the devastating effects of earthquakes, say physicists in France and the UK.

The "earthquake cloak" idea comes from the team led by Stefan Enoch at the Fresnel Institute in Marseille, France. They were the first to show that the physics of invisibility cloaks could have other applications – designing a cloak that could render objects "invisible" to destructive storm waves or tsunamis.

"The outer rings remain nearly still, but the pair of rings tuned to the frequency of the wave move like crazy, bending up and down and twisting," says Guenneau. "For each small frequency range, there's one pair of rings that does most of the work." The team has simulated cloaks containing as many as 100 rings, says Guenneau, although fewer would be needed to protect against the most common kinds of earthquake surface waves.

The seismic waves of an earthquake fall into two main groups: body waves that propagate through the Earth, and surface waves that travel only across the surface.

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