Researchers 3D Print Acoustic Metamaterials That Can Block Sound Waves and Vibrations

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Metamaterials, which can morph according to their environment, make up a new class of 3D printable, engineered surfaces which can perform nature-defying tasks, like making holograms and shaping sound. Recently, a collaborative team led by researchers from the USC Viterbi School of Engineering created new 3D printed acoustic metamaterials that are able to be remotely switched on and off, using a magnetic field, between active control and passive states.

This makes it possible to control vibration and sound, which other researchers have been trying unsuccessfully to do with abnormal property-exhibiting structures. The difference is that those metamaterials are built in fixed geometries, so their abilities will also remain fixed.

“When you fabricate a structure, the geometry cannot be changed, which means the property is fixed,” explained Qiming Wang, USC Viterbi Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering. “The idea here is, we can design something very flexible so that you can change it using external controls.”

Close up of the team’s metamaterial. [Image: Qiming Wang]

Wang, together with USC Viterbi PhD student Kun-Hao Yu, University of Missouri Professor Guoliang Huang, and MIT Professor Nicholas X. Fang, whose work with 3D metamaterials we’re familiar with, have developed 3D printed metamaterials that can block both mechanical vibrations and sound waves. This opens up applications in vibration control, noise cancellation, and sonic cloaking (used to hide objects from acoustic waves), because, unlike current metamaterials, these can be controlled remotely with a magnetic field.

Yu said, “Traditional engineering materials may only shield from acoustics and vibrations, but few of them can switch between on and off.”

Yu, Fang, Huang, and Wang, whose research was funded by the National Science Foundation and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research Young Investigator Program, recently published a paper, titled “Magnetoactive Acoustic Metamaterials,” in the Advanced Materials journal.

The abstract reads, “In conventional acoustic metamaterials, the negative constitutive parameters are engineered via tailored structures with fixed geometries; therefore, the relationships between constitutive parameters and acoustic frequencies are typically fixed to form a 2D phase space once the structures are fabricated. Here, by means of a model system of magnetoactive lattice structures, stimuli‐responsive acoustic metamaterials are demonstrated to be able to extend the 2D phase space to 3D through rapidly and repeatedly switching signs of constitutive parameters with remote magnetic fields. It is shown for the first time that effective modulus can be reversibly switched between positive and negative within controlled frequency regimes through lattice buckling modulated by theoretically predicted magnetic fields.”

Metamaterials can manipulate wave phenomena, like light, radar, and sound, which helps create technology like cloaking devices. Environmental sounds and structural vibrations, which have similar waveforms, can now be controlled by the team’s unique metamaterials. These can be compressed, but not constrained, with a magnetic field by 3D printing a deformable material, which contains iron particles, in a lattice structure. So, when a mechanical or acoustic wave makes contact with the 3D printed metamaterial, it disturbs it, which then produces the properties that can block certain frequencies of mechanical vibrations and sound waves.

The magnetoactive acoustic metamaterial affixed to petri dish. [Image: Ashleen Knutsen]

“You can apply an external magnetic force to deform the structure and change the architecture and the geometry inside it,” said Wang. “Once you change the architecture, you change the property. We wanted to achieve this kind of freedom to switch between states. Using magnetic fields, the switch is reversible and very rapid.”

In order to work, the mechanism needs the negative modulus and density of the metamaterials; these are both positive in regular materials. An object will typically push back against you if you push it, but objects with a negative modulus pull you forward as you push; objects with negative density move toward you when you push them.

Yu explained, “Material with a negative modulus or negative density can trap sounds or vibrations within the structure through local resonances so that they cannot transfer through it.”

Schematic for the acoustic experiment. Cotton pads were attached to the inner surface of the plastic tube to reduce the acoustic reflection.

Just one negative property, be it density or modulus, is able to independently block vibrations and noise within certain frequencies, but these can pass through if the two negative properties work together. By switching the magnetic field, the researchers have versatile control and can switch the metamaterial between double-positive (sound passing), single-negative (sound blocking), and double-negative (sound passing again).

Wang said, “This is the first time researchers have demonstrated reversible switching among these three phases using remote stimuli.”

The team’s current system can only 3D print metamaterials with beam diameters between one micron and one millimeter, so it either needs to grow or shrink. Larger beams would affect lower frequency waves, while smaller ones would control waves of higher frequencies.

“There are indeed a number of possible applications for smartly controlling acoustics and vibrations. Traditional engineering materials may only shield from acoustics and vibrations, but few of them can switch between on and off,” Yu said.

Now, Wang thinks the team could get their metamaterial to demonstrate another unique property – negative refraction, or “anti-physics,” where a wave goes through the material and comes back in at an unnatural angle. Once the researchers manage to 3D print larger structures, they’ll focus more on studying this phenomenon.

“We want to scale down or scale up our fabrication system. This would give us more opportunity to work on a larger range of wavelengths,” Wang said.

Discuss this research and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com or share your thoughts below. 

[Source/Images: USC Viterbi]

Turn Color Into Sound with Innovative Specdrums Rings, Created with the Help of 3D Printing

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From 3D printed violins and guitars to a modular synthesizer and arpeggiator, 3D printing technology has often been used to help musicians play that funky (and classical) music. A creative group of engineering, design, and music students from the University of Colorado Boulder launched a Kickstarter campaign, currently in its final hours, for Specdrums, which is one of the most interesting musical products I’ve seen in a long time. For people who can’t get enough of tapping away on tabletops, counters, and drums alike, these app-connected rings will actually turn color into sound! The rings allow you to tap on anything with color, from your clothes and graffiti-covered walls to the included 12-color keyboard, to create your own beats and melodies…the world is your own personal sound machine with Specdrums.

In addition to the rings themselves, a Specdrums package comes with a beginner’s guide, the 12-Color Specdrums keyboard, a dual micro-USB cable that charges two rings at once, and a 3.5mm AUX cable, so you can plug your mobile device directly into speakers for low latency jamming.

So, how does it work? To connect up to ten rings to the Specdrums app, available on iOS and Android, you just need to tap the device, and then tap different colors to wirelessly play sounds and musical pitches. You also have the option of selecting different types of instrument sounds, like drum kits and keyboards, and even sound collections, like sound effects and personal recordings – each different sound’s color can be customized to match different colors.

You can also use Specdrums to loop short bits of music, which are called Sloops: layered beats and melodies that have been created within the app using different vocal recordings and instruments. If you want to share your Specdrum creations, you can send Sloops to friends or share on your social media accounts so others can download and open them; they can even contribute further to the Sloops, which makes for a collaborative experience. Specdrums also give you the option to save color, instrument, and sound schemes to use them later – for example, you can make a scheme for all of the colors in your living room or at your desk.

Specdrums rings behave like a pocket-sized Bluetooth MIDI device outside of the app. This means that they can connect to music-making MIDI apps, like GarageBand, and to your laptop so you can play with them on music production software like Ableton Live.

Specdrums were specifically designed to be “the most accessible, portable musical device” for anyone, no matter their age or musical background (or lack thereof). Not only are they perfect for the percussionist in your life who just can’t stop tapping, Specdrums rings are also a neat alternative to fidget spinners, and are great for kids who enjoy playing with smart, connected toys and teachers looking for STEAM education technology.

The rings are especially handy for music educators – they’re easy to set up, don’t take up a lot of storage room, and are low-budget to boot. Kids can then use color recognition to learn different musical pitches, make their own instruments using the rings and colored construction paper, and arrange the colors to play a tune.

Engineering CAD Model

Specdrums is also open source, so developers who are interested in an open source Bluetooth LE sensor suite are in luck – you can make your own Specdrums application by visiting Specdrums on GitHub. There are many possibilities, from developing a color blindness aid and creating a color scavenger hunt game to building home automation tools and using the accelerometer for gesture recognition.

The Specdrums rings themselves are not 3D printed, but the silicon prototypes for the rings were made using 3D printed molds, which were created on a Stratasys Objet printer. Often, when we hear of objects being 3D printed, like fruit sensors, chocolate, crayons, and chess pieces, they were actually created using 3D printed molds. 3D printing is helping to expand the offerings from the team, as well, with upcoming releases being perfected thanks to the technology.

Specdrums co-founder and CEO Steven Dourmashkin told 3DPrint.com, “We also used 3D printing to work on other prototypes, that aren’t yet released (including a foot pedal, drumstick, and even marker cap)!”

Specdrums rings are definitely out of development and available via the wildly successful Kickstarter campaign, which as of now has raised more than $175,000 – over 1,100% more than its original goal of $15,000.

The campaign is only up for another several hours, and while all of the early bird specials are gone, you can still get one Specdrums ring (default color is black) for a pledge of $39; it will cost you $74 to get a pair of rings.

What do you think of Specdrums? Discuss this article and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com. You can also discuss in the Facebook comments below.

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Enjoy superior, uncompressed audio for your games and entertainment that’s affordable, without any compromise in audio quality.

3D Surround Sound

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Unchain yourself from the limits of 7.1 audio. SBX Surround positions audio in a 360 degree true-to-life sound stage.

16-Million Color Illuminated Earcups

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Put on a color that fits your style or mood. Choose from a dizzying 16 million colors to complement your gaming team, rig, or aura.

High-Quality USB Audio Cable

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Spend more time gaming instead of being in a tangled mess. The high quality braided USB audio cable provides excellent flexibility while minimizing unwieldy tangles. The Rage USB also includes a 4-pole analog cable that enables connection to iPhones or Android phones as well as tablets.

50mm FullSpectrum Drivers

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Experience a high-powered, no-holds-barred 3D gaming audio experience with massive bass and detailed highs.

Accessible On-Ear Audio Controls

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Easily adjust your game volume or mute your microphone on the fly. With the rotary volume control dial, you can make faster, more precise volume adjustments.

3D Surround Sound

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Free yourself from the limits of physical 7.1 audio. Immerse yourself right in the middle of your game.

Take On a Persona

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With VoiceFX, you can match your voice to your game avatar, be it an orc, elf or alien infiltrator. Don’t just play your avatar, BE your avatar.

Fully Customizable Audio and Illumination

Fully Customizable Audio and Illumination

Personalize your headset by customizing every aspect of your audio or earcup illumination settings exactly the way you want it.

What's in the Box

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Sound Blaster Tactic3D Rage USB with detachable microphone, 1.8-meter Micro-USB-to-USB cable, 1.2-meter 3.5mm stereo cable, Quick Start Guide.

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