Hometown: Arlington, Virginia
Hometown: Newport News, Virginia
A thumping bass may do more than light up a party—it could flat out extinguish it, thanks to a new sound-blasting fire extinguisher created by Mason undergrads.
Engineering seniors Viet Tran and Seth Robertson got the idea to fight fire with sound waves when they were choosing a class project for ECE 492 and 493 Senior Advanced Design Project I and II, where students produce and present a project for a final grade.
Tran and Robertson’s 20-pound, Flash Gordon-style prototype was born out of $600 of their own money and about as many trials. The fire extinguisher uses low-frequency sound waves to douse a blaze. Their sound-wave device is free of toxic chemicals and eliminates collateral damage from sprinkler systems. If mounted on drones, it could improve safety for firefighters confronting large forest fires, urban blazes, or space.
“Fire is a huge issue in space,” Tran says.
“In space, extinguisher contents spread all over. But you can direct sound waves without gravity,” says Robertson.
Initially, both students thought big speakers and high frequencies would douse a fire.
“But it’s low-frequency sounds—like the thump-thump bass in hip-hop that works,” says Tran, who joked that rappers such as 50 Cent could probably douse a fire and hip-hop celebrity endorsements might be just the ticket to hawk their fire extinguisher.
It has taken time for their idea to catch on. Although several professors threw cold water on the project, Tran and Robertson were able to convince electrical and computer engineering professor Brian Mark to be their mentor.
The inventors make a powerful team. They met as freshmen. Tran learned study discipline from Robertson, a student-athlete who mastered time management.
“I’d wake up at six after we had studied until three in the morning, and he’d already be at wrestling practice,” Tran says.
Robertson works for the Department of Defense while studying, and he’s been offered a permanent position at Hanscom Air Force Base in Bedford, Massachusetts. Tran has an internship at Zodiac Aerospace in Dulles with the promise of a full-time job on graduation.
Mason helped the inventors apply for a provisional patent. The provisional patent application gives them a year to talk publicly about the invention, test the market, and determine whether pursuing the patent makes sense.