New Foam-Like Fabric Lets Sunshine In…and Keeps Road Noise Out

By Veronique Greenwood | May 6, 2011 3:40 pm

theviewThe weave of the new translucent fabric traps sound, while letting light—and in this photo from the Swiss lab, a view of neighboring houses—through.

What’s the News: Noisy rooms are no fun, but neither are those smothered in heavy sound-canceling drapes. The solution? A translucent curtain that quenches sound by behaving like foam, developed by Swiss materials scientists and a textile designer.

How the Heck:

  • To get a grip on what kind of curtain would block sound but not light, the research team at the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Research built a computer model of the acoustic qualities of fabric. This model helped pinpoint the exact properties—for example, the fabric’s density and the shape of the microscopic holes that pepper it—that the new textile would require. They then passed their findings off to the designer, Annette Douglas, to turn into reality.

    curtains The curtains were tested in a seminar room
    built specifically for measuring acoustics.

  • Douglas—who has been working to make see-through, sound-stopping curtains for a while, having won a prize in 2005 for her plan for acoustic barriers in open-plan offices—worked with a variety of yarns and developed a new weave pattern for the fabric.
  • The new curtain absorbs five times as much sound as regular translucent fabrics. “Acousticians are pretty astonished when they see the readings we are achieving with the new curtains in the reverberation room,” the lead researcher said in a press release. Regular see-through draperies cut down on the time a sound bounces around a room by only 2–3%. These babies cut it by 20%.
  • What’s going on inside this fabric? A researcher elaborated in an email: “The basic principle of how sound energy is absorbed by the new textile is the same as in foam; both are porous sound absorbers. The air moving inside the textile is slowed down by friction, which causes a conversion of sound energy into thermal energy.”

The Future Holds: Quieter, sunnier offices, classrooms, bars, you name it. This combination of qualities in a curtain is a first, and the lead researcher reports that there’s already a lot of interest from potential buyers. Three styles of the new curtains are available from the manufacturer.

Image credit: EMPA

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology, Uncategorized
  • Matt B.

    That is the weirdest spam ever.

  • Amos Zeeberg (Discover Web Editor)

    Yeah, I don’t know if spammers use those nonsensical spams to test spam filters or what. Anywho, I deleted a previous spam message, if you’re curious—Matt B isn’t crazy.

  • cheri vaughn

    Does this mean that the louder the surroundings, the warmer space will get? Might work well in winter, but could be a problem in summer. What is the ratio of conversion of the energy of the sound waves to the thermal energy? Things could become quieter but hotter. Would that require new cooling for the process…which usually makes sound, and could require more energy? Interesting concept.

  • Eric

    The sound would eventually convert to heat anyway after bouncing around the walls of the room. It takes whole lot of kenetic energy to raise tempurature. Think of rubbing two sticks together to make a fire. The sunlight that these curtains are letting through would raise the tempurature a lot more than the converted sound energy.

  • Jes

    How long until I can get this as a summer ragtop for a Jeep? 😀

  • Will

    How long before it is available to the public and at what estimated cost?

  • david rogers

    I would love to see the specs and a small sample. This could be just what I need for a thin, translucent, thermal and acoustic insulating film/layer. Can you get something to Australia?

  • Felicitas Bruker

    Youcompleteda couple


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