Beyond Invisibility: New Theory Could Help "Hide" Objects From Earthquakes

Future Tense
The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Feb. 15 2012 3:12 PM

Beyond Invisibility: New Theory Could Help "Hide" Objects From Earthquakes

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Engineers suspended by ropes conduct a block-by-block inspection of the Washington Monument exterior following the East Coast earthquake in August 2011.

Photo by JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images

In the post-Harry Potter world, we’ve received repeated promises that scientists are “getting closer” to a real invisibility cloak. In recent months, researchers were able to bend light around small objects underwater using carbon nanotubes. And Texas scientists found a way to hide 3-D objects.

Now, scientists at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom have developed a theoretical way to hide objects from vibrations, such as those caused by earthquakes. Dr. William Parnell hopes to develop a device that sends vibration waves around an object, rather than through it, preventing damage, according to io9.

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With this theory comes the challenge of finding the appropriate material. According to the Telegraph, the scientists think that pressurized rubber will do the trick. For now, however, this is all just a theory, and the University of Manchester team is now tasked with realizing the hypothesis.

If this concept does work, the results could be tremendous. Entire buildings would be safe from earthquake or terrorist attack.

It would be great to go back in time and insure that the National Cathedral and the Washington Monument did not suffer damage from the earthquake in August. And more importantly, it could prevent disaster like that in Japan, when an earthquake and tsunami resulted in nuclear crisis. But how expensive it would be to produce and install, especially if it were to protect entire structures? It seems likely to be too pricey to protect individual homes, for instance. But as is so often the case here, the development is in such early stages that speculation is more parlor game

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Caitlin Mac Neal is an intern for Future Tense.

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