A Magazine for the George Mason University Community

Patriot Profiles: Viet Tran and Seth Robertson

By Mason Spirit contributor on July 1, 2015

Viet Tran
Year: Senior
Hometown: Arlington, Virginia

Seth Robertson
Year: Senior
Hometown: Newport News, Virginia

Mason inventors Viet Tran and Seth Robertson

Mason inventors Viet Tran and Seth Robertson

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.

—Molly Brauer


  1. Dears Siers

    We are three french students , Mr Bretin, Mr Lacques and Mr Mairet , we are sixteen years old and study in lycéé henri vincenot, in Louhans, in Burgundy. We are interested by your production of extinguisher, which operates with low-frequencies. In March, we will pass an official exam, our problematic is : Can we extinguished a combustion without contribution of matter ? We want to present the concept of your extinguisher. We would like to build a simple replica for a experience during the exam in order to extinguish a matchstick or a candle with a low-frequencies. We would like, you ask a some questions for render this project possible. Does he need a special combustible ?
    The waves are send in continue or in pure sine wave. May you help us to understand how it works please ? We appreciate a lot your ingenious idea. Thank you, for your comprehension.

    Yours faithfully.

    Comment by Mairet Antoine — October 27, 2015 @ 11:45 am

  2. Dear sir Viet Tran and Seth Robertson, i m interested in your concept of using sound waves to distroy the fire . will you please explain in deatail about your project like how you demolish all the things? Because a very great man says that world is made of vibrations…..(?)

    Comment by Tushar — December 1, 2015 @ 2:16 am

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