A University of Strathclyde researcher has been awarded an EPSRC grant to investigate the possibility of using miniaturised acoustic metamaterials in headphones and other portable audio devices. Joseph Jackson, a lecturer in electronics and electrical engineering at Strathclyde, has been awarded £422,394 to carry out the two-year project.
Acoustic metamaterials are artificially created materials that have been specifically designed to control, direct and manipulate sound waves. They can be used to supress the noise emanating from an object or to stop noises from reaching the ear.
The nature of these properties depends on the shape and geometry of the metamaterial. The new project aims to use microscale 3D printing to develop miniaturised acoustic metamaterials that can be incorporated into personal audio devices in order to enhance features such as noise cancellation.
According to Jackson, by 3D-printing small acoustic systems that can be stacked on top of each other, it should be possible to create tiny acoustic metamaterials that operate at audio frequencies.
‘Unfortunately, acoustic metamaterials, which promise a step change in the way materials interact with sound, are still very large for audio frequencies,’ said Jackson. ‘We will try to miniaturise acoustic materials to make sound-absorbing materials that are small and lightweight while retaining good acoustic function.
‘Companies are working on noise-reduction technologies, but these are mainly electro-acoustic techniques: signal acquisition, phase shifting, playback,’ he continued. ‘We are trying to miniaturise acoustic metamaterials to enable their use in wearable devices instead of, or in addition to, active noise cancellation.’
As well as noise-cancelling headphones, the technology has potential applications in devices such as hearing aids and other sensors.