Drop the bass, put out a fire. That's the idea behind a new type of fire extinguisher, built by two engineering students at George Mason University, that is capable of dousing a blaze with sound alone, reports the Christian Science Monitor

It may seem like magic, but sound really is capable of extinguishing a fire. Sound waves tuned to the right note (a bass note, it turns out) can displace oxygen in a particular way, which can consequently snuff out flames. The prototype built by students Seth Robertson and Viet Tran is a handheld device not much more burdensome than a traditional fire extinguisher. But rather than spray harmful chemicals, it merely emits a low hum. Flames are almost instantly quenched.

You may have to see it to believe it. The video below showcases the technology, and rest assured: No special effects are at play here.

Another way of conceptualizing how the device works is to understand that as music notes get deeper, the amount of air required to produce them increases. You can test this yourself by singing a high note compared to a low one. So a deep tone is essentially a blast of air. Robertson's and Tran's device thus uses a low humming sound to blow out a fire like candles on a birthday cake. 

Using sound to put out fires has a number of substantial benefits over traditional extinguishers. Most notably, it is entirely eco-friendly. It requires no chemicals or foam, and best of all, no water. The students believe the technology will have numerous everyday uses, such as preventing stovetop grease fires (imagine such a device mounted over a stove). But it could have many more technical uses too. For instance, astronauts could use it to safely extinguish fires in space, since sound waves are not affected by gravity.

More testing is needed to ensure that the device will work against a full range of different sorts of fires, and it's unclear how effective sound is at keeping a flame extinguished — fires might occasionally reignite after the device is turned off. But the prototype is promising and the students are already well on their way to securing a provisional patent. 

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Bryan Nelson ( @@brynelson ) writes about everything from environmental problems here on Earth to big questions in space.

How to put out a fire using nothing but sound
Two engineering students have built a device that can instantly douse a fire with just a deep hum.