Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Vibrations to Power?

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Vibrations to Power?

Article excerpt

A University at Buffalo (UB)-led research team has developed a mathematical framework that could one day form the basis of technologies that turn road vibrations, airport runway noise, and other "junk" energy into useful power.

The concept begins with a granular system comprising a chain of equal-sized particles (e.g., spheres) that touch one another.

In Physical Review E, UB theoretical physicist Surajit Sen and colleagues describe how altering the shape of grain-to-grain contact areas between the particles dramatically changes how energy propagates through the system.

Under "normal" circumstances, when the particles are perfect spheres, exerting force on the first sphere in the chain causes energy to travel through them as a compact bundle of energy between 3--5 particle diameters wide, at a rate set by Heinrich Hertz's Law.

But Sen and his collaborators have discovered that by altering the shape of the surface area where each particle presses against the next, it's possible to change how the energy moves.

While this finding is yet to be demonstrated experimentally, Sen says that "mathematically, it's correct. We have proven it."

"What this work means is that by tweaking force propagation from one grain to another, we can potentially channel energy in controllable ways, which includes slowing down how energy moves, varying the space across which it moves and potentially even holding some of it down," says Sen, a professor of physics whose partners on the project include former graduate student Diankang Sun, now of New Mexico Resonance in Albuquerque, and Chiara Daraio, a professor at the California Institute of Technology. …

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