Vibration "invisibility cloak" could protect buildings from earthquakes


February 15, 2012

Mathematicians are proposing a cloaking system, which could allow buildings to be rendered invisible to earthquakes (Photo via Shutterstock)

Mathematicians are proposing a cloaking system, which could allow buildings to be rendered invisible to earthquakes (Photo via Shutterstock)

While "cloaking" technology may have once been limited exclusively to the realm of science fiction, regular Gizmag readers will know that it is now finding its way into real life - just within the past few years, scientists have demonstrated various experimental cloaking systems that prevent small objects from being seen, and in one case, from being heard. Such invisibility systems involve the use of metamaterials, which are man-made materials that exhibit optical qualities not found in nature. These are able to effectively bend light around an object, instead of allowing it to strike the object directly. Now, mathematicians from the University of Manchester are proposing technology based on the same principles, that would allow buildings to become "invisible" to earthquakes.

A team led by Dr. William Parnell is proposing that buildings in earthquake-prone regions could be surrounded with pressurized rubber at their bases. This could theoretically keep the elastic waves traveling through the ground from registering the presence of the building, instead simply passing around either side of it.

"We showed theoretically that pre-stressing a naturally available material - rubber - leads to a cloaking effect from a specific type of elastic wave," said Parnell. "Our team is now working hard on more general theories and to understand how this theory can be realized in practice ... If the theory can be scaled up to larger objects then it could be used to create cloaks to protect buildings and structures, or perhaps more realistically to protect very important specific parts of those structures."

While building rubber bumpers around all the buildings in one town might be a little over-ambitious, it has been suggested that the technology could be focused on structures such as electric pylons, nuclear power plants, and government offices.

Source: University of Manchester

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

force fields. nifty

Brad Needham

Government offices? With the exception of first responders their loss is our gain.


Isn\'t this what Japan has been doing for years? And what\'s the point of protecting electricity pylons? a whole city razed by an earthquake (may God protect) doesn\'t really need much electricity...


re; agulesin

This is a different approach seismic isolation.

Downed power lines start fires. Disaster relief works better when electricity is available. Hospitals need electricity. Electric skillets can boil water and heat a shelter. Fukushima Daiichi would not have had a problem if the grid had stayed up.


Apart from calling then \"an invisibility cloak\" there\'s nothing particulalry new about using rubber in base siolators. See for a description of the rubber / steel plate / lead base isolators invented here in New Zealand and now used around the world in important new buildings (such as one of our museums above) - and sometimes retrofitted to existing ones (such as our house of parliament).

Lindsey Roke

Like Linsey said, this isn't new.. The old way is building a floating foundation and make a building on it that won't fall apart. I'd build them like a ferrocemment boat/barge hull for earthquakes and flood zones. I've never figured out why people buy such badly built but very expensive homes.

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