MIT researchers develop groundbreaking noise-cancelling fabric

MIT researchers have created a hair-thin fabric that insulates sound, propelling us toward a future of thin walls and silent clothing

A team of researchers from MIT has created an innovative fabric, just slightly thicker than a human hair, capable of eliminating unwanted noise and insulating a room with extreme precision. This revolutionary fabric could replace the walls of our homes and be integrated into our clothing, offering a wide range of practical applications. How did this idea come about, and what are its future potentialities?

Serendipitous discovery

The discovery occurred by chance: while working on a device designed to amplify sounds like a microphone, the MIT research team inadvertently developed an opposite tool. It is a fabric capable of isolating an environment and canceling sounds with great precision. This invention, only slightly thicker than a hair, propels us into a future of “walls as thin as curtains,” “clothing to block out noisy neighbors,” and many other applications.

Silk: the ideal material for acoustic insulation

In their initial experiments, scientists tested various common fabrics such as canvas and muslin, but it was silk that proved to be the best material for creating this insulating fabric. As shown in the image above, a practical application involves a dividing curtain in a large room that absorbs noise so effectively that one can play drums on one side while someone sleeps peacefully on the other.

In MIT’s laboratories, the same research group had previously invented a fabric capable of amplifying sound like a microphone, conceived to create garments useful for those with hearing impairments. This technology, reminiscent of those seen in Star Trek, has numerous medical applications, allowing doctors to detect vital signs immediately.

How the new fabric works

The new fabric, like many scientific discoveries, was born almost by accident. It functions like a mirror that “reflects” noise, canceling it. When hung still, for example as a curtain, it reflects the sound emitted in a room, isolating the surrounding environment. Silk, due to its porosity and mechanical properties, offers the best insulation, reducing sound volume by up to 65 decibels, equivalent to a particularly animated conversation.

When the fabric is subjected to vibration, it generates sound waves that interfere with the noise, canceling it out. However, this method only works in limited spaces, such as noise-canceling headphones in a confined area. Therefore, the first method is the most effective for isolating rooms, open spaces, vehicles, and even creating insulating clothing.

Future potential

As stated by Grace H. Yang, the lead author of the research, “this is just the beginning.” There are many ways to improve the fabric’s performance and identify new applications.

Sources: Advanced MaterialsMIT

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