Fighting fire with bass? Sounds crazy, but these college students are making it happen

You’ve probably heard of fighting fire with water, and even fighting fire with fire — but what about fighting fire with sound? It might seem like the stuff of science fiction, but a pair of enterprising students from George Mason University have built a machine that does just that.

Believe it or not, scientists have been tinkering with sonic fire extinguishing for years now. It’s already been proven effective in controlled situations — but it took engineering students Viet Tran and Seth Robertson to shrink it down and make the technology portable.

Screen Shot 2015-03-27 at 3.38.23 PMUsing $600 of their own money, Tran and Robertson have produced a functioning prototype that, when directed at a small fire, will extinguish the blaze with nothing more than sound. Basically, by directing a stream of low-frequency sounds at the flames, the device is able to create pressure waves in the air and rob the fire of oxygen — effectively choking it out.

“It’s low-frequency sounds—like the thump-thump bass in hip-hop that works,” Tran told George Mason’s internal news organization, joking that rappers like 50 Cent could probably douse a fire, and that hip-hop celebrity endorsements might be just the ticket to hawk their fire extinguisher.

While it’s still just a prototype at this point, Tran and Robertson have filed a provisional patent for the contraption, and plan to spend the next year refining it and considering how to bring it to market

As it’s still in the early stages of development, the two still aren’t sure exactly how their invention will be used. Tran speculates that it might end up being used as a kitchen device, used to put out small stovetop fires and the like, but the duo also imagine a few more futuristic applications for the sonic extinguisher

“Eventually I’d like to see this applied to, maybe, swarm robotics,” Tran added “where they would be attached to a drone and that would be applied to forest fires or even building fires where you wouldn’t want to sacrifice human life.”

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