The traditional method to fight fires is with water, special foams, powders and other chemical substances. Harvard University’s Whitesides Research Group, however, have created a “wand” that harnesses the power of electric fields to control flames. This new technology could help reduce the environmental threats and water damage caused by traditional flame tamers.
How it Works
National Geographic reports the wand is a thin wire connected to a 600-watt amplifier plugged into the wall. The amplifier is about the size of a file cabinet and has the power of a high-end car stereo. The wand creates the electric field necessary—a million volts per meter—to create a spark in dry air, but the frequency is not enough to pose dangers to healthy individuals. Harvard researchers found that when they brought the wand close to 20-inch, thin flames, the flames disappeared almost instantly. Future smaller versions of the wand device will use a tenth of the wattage, be more portable and would create the same results.
The Science behind the Magic
Flames contain ions, soot and electrons that react to electric fields. Because of this, the wand uses electricity to detach the flames away from its fuel source. The science behind this recent discovery involving electricity has scientists working on a way to suppress wider fires and those that are farther away by changing the shape of the voltage, frequency and electric current in the wand. While the wand is not the answer for fighting all fires, like wildfires, there is a possibility that future versions could allow firefighters to carry power sources in a backpack that attach to a wand, or buildings and ships could have a similar feature in their ceilings.
In the Meantime
The promise of new technology does not mean individuals can ignore traditional fire-safety prevention methods. It is still the responsibility of home and business owners to take measures to ensure the safety of those in the home or office.