Can buildings be 'hidden' from earthquakes to keep them safe?
Cloaking devices make objects invisible by diverting light waves. The same principle may also prevent earthquake damage.
Mon, Oct 07, 2013 at 02:33 PM
Earthquakes can cause massive loss of life, often because buildings fail and people get trapped inside.
Great advances have already been made in making buildings more earthquake-resistant. But what if buildings could actually become invisible to quakes?
Invisibility is usually something reserved for discussion in science-fiction films like "Predator." But a quick search of the Internet will reveal that "cloaking" technology has come along way in recent years. By diverting light waves and redirecting them to appear as if they traveled in straight line, these cloaking devices can — for all intents and purposes — make an object disappear from view.
Here's a simple demonstration:
Such devices are already being developed by the U.S. military as the next phase in effective camouflage. The same principles may also have applications elsewhere. As an article in the Smithsonian explains, the shockwaves that cause the most damage during earthquakes might also be susceptible to such manipulation:
According to [William] Parnell’s mathematical model, it’s possible to channel seismic waves around an object by placing it at the precise center of an underground rubber cloak. Parnell calculates that if rubber is “pre-stressed” — stretched in a specific manner — it can mimic the capabilities of light-cloaking materials.To be sure, engineers already lay rubber shock absorbers under some buildings to protect against earthquakes. But Parnell’s cloak should prevent the structure from feeling Love [dangerous zigzag] waves at all. And, additional calculations indicate the cloak could potentially lessen the impact of other types of seismic waves — such as P waves, which alternately compress and stretch rock as they move through the ground.
The concept is currently being tested by researchers. And while a building-sized rubber cloak may be many years off, early applications may include protecting key structural elements or important electrical infrastructure. You can read more about buildings that are invisible to earthquakes over at the Smithsonian.
Related on MNN:
- How earthquakes work — and where the next one might strike
- Earthquake damage as seen from space
- 5 natural events that science can't explain, including earthquake lights
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