This article is from the In-Depth Report A Guide to Earthquakes
60-Second Earth

Earthquake Deflection Takes a Tiny Step

Building on light-cloaking work, physicists took a small step toward the goal of shielding cities from earthquakes by deflecting incoming energy. David Biello reports


This week a massive quake off the coast of Chile killed six and forced hundreds of thousands to evacuate in fear of a tsunami. The shaking evoked memories of the events off the coast of Japan in 2011 that triggered meltdowns at a nuclear power plant that the country is still struggling with.
Scientists have long dreamed of ways to predict and even protect regions from such devastation. Now a group of French scientists hopes to help, building on work that showed how light can be manipulated to make objects invisible.
The cloaking technique renders an object invisible by bending light of specific frequencies around the target. In theory, the same principles might be used to deflect incoming seismic waves. A precisely tuned array of boreholes around a city or a nuclear power plant that resonate at the frequencies characteristic of quakes could thus dampen the vibrations and shield objects.

The French team’s small demo with acoustic waves in soil worked, deflecting the incoming energy around the target area. That research is in the journal Physical Review Letters. [S. Brûlé, Experiments on Seismic Metamaterials: Molding Surface Waves]

Of course, that energy still has to go somewhere. Should this work pan out, the trick will be to find a way to absorb the massive energy of a major earthquake—or find a better place to send it.
—David Biello
[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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