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Small acoustical metamaterial bricks reportedly enable the manipulation of sound with the same ease and flexibility that projectors and LCDs manipulate light.

Norbert Sparrow

February 28, 2017

2 Min Read
3D-printed metamaterials can bend sound waves to improve medical diagnostics and cancer treatment

Metamaterials, a class of finely engineered surfaces that perform tasks not found in nature, entered the popular lexicon a few years back when researchers used the materials’ light-manipulation properties to create a device that replicates Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak. New research from a team of scientists at the universities of Sussex and Bristol in the United Kingdom shows that metamaterials also have the capability to manipulate sound. The discovery has the potential to transform medical imaging and personal audio, according to a news release published on the Sussex University website.

The space-coiling bricks act to slow down sound waves, meaning that they can be transformed into any required sound field. Image courtesy University of Sussex.

The researchers assembled an acoustical metamaterial layer formed by several small bricks that “coil up space.” The architecture slows down sound waves, allowing researchers to bend, shape or focus them. The bricks, manufactured from a thermoplastic using a 3D Systems ProJet HD 3000 Plus printer, can be assembled to “form any acoustic field you can imagine,” said Gianluca Memoli, PhD, who led the study, in a short video embedded below. Professor Sriram Subramanian, Head of the Interact Lab at the University of Sussex, added that the goal is to “create acoustic devices that manipulate sound with the same ease and flexibility with which projectors and liquid crystal displays manipulate light.”

The technology could enable the cheap, rapid manufacture of medical imaging systems for diagnostic applications or to improve high-intensity focused ultrasound cancer treatments. For instance, a patient-specific 3D-printed metamaterial layer could be tuned to focus the ultrasound waves where they will achieve the best results without affecting healthy tissue and organs.

The metamaterial also could be used to form an audio hotspot by directing sound to a particular location or, in the industrial space, to detect cracks in engineered structures.

The research was published online by Nature Communications on Feb. 27, 2017.

About the Author(s)

Norbert Sparrow

Editor in chief of PlasticsToday since 2015, Norbert Sparrow has more than 30 years of editorial experience in business-to-business media. He studied journalism at the Centre Universitaire d'Etudes du Journalisme in Strasbourg, France, where he earned a master's degree.


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