We can't fight fire with fire, but we can sure use electricity to quench the flames. This discovery was made by a team of scientists from Harvard University based on a 200-year old observation that electricity can influence the shape of flames and make them bend, twist, turn, flicker, and eventually snuff them out.
The study is headed by Dr. Ludovico Cademartiri, who presented the findings of his team's study during the 241st National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society.
He demonstrated their suggested means of firefighting to the audience by shooting a beam of electricity from a blaster that they developed at 30-centimeter flames. Almost instantly, the flames were extinguished, again and again. The blaster consisted of a 600-watt amplifier attached to a rod or wand which is used to direct the electrical waves into a beam. After the demonstration, Dr. Cademartiri told the audience that the rod was transmitting approximately the same amount of power as a high-end stereo system for cars would need in order to operate.
Dr. Cademartiri gave an overview of their results and explained, "Controlling fires is an enormously difficult challenge. Our research has shown that by applying large electric fields, we can suppress flames very rapidly. We're very excited about the results of this relatively unexplored area of research."
So what makes the flames go poof? The research leader further explains that there are many factors that cause the flames to go out. For one, the soot particles in the flame produced by the fire become charged by the electric field. These charged particles of soot respond to the field, which consequently affects the stability of the flames. This eventually succeeds in putting the flames out altogether.
This technology would allow firefighters to extinguish fires from a distance without having to physically deliver extinguishing materials to the site of the fire as is done today. Dr. Cademartiri noted that this new technology showed great promise for fighting fires in enclosed
areas but would not be suitable for fires spread over large areas such
as forest fires.
As for their study, Dr. Cademartiri has high hopes and big plans for the next step in their research. He envisions the development of future devices based on the same phenomenon that can assume the function of the water sprinklers installed in most buildings and facilities today.
The study was funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy.
Source: American Chemical Society