Making a building invisible to earthquakes may sound like something from the future. But this kind of technology and engineering is ever necessary if we are to protect important infrastructures from the destruction of a sudden massive earthquake.
As strange as it may seem, scientists and researchers have found a few possible ways to "hide" infrastructure from seismic waves.
Elastodynamic Invisibility Cloak
The mathematician William Parnell from the University of Manchester in England suggests that wrapping the base of a building, or at least its key components, with a rubberized elastodynaamic cloak could divert the earthquake shock waves and essentially leave the building untouched.
The premise is that by surrounding an object with the cloak, the object will be spared from substantial damage. While the idea is still in its testing stage and the likelihood of creating building-sized cloaks isn't deemed practical, the technology could still find its uses in other matters of everyday life.
Zigzag Array of Holes
Another method to make infrastructure more resistant to earthquakes has been proposed by Vladimir Liberman, a physicist from the MIT Lincoln Laboratory.
Liberman and his colleagues are testing the possibility that, by drilling holes of different sizes and orientation around an important infrastructure, such as nuclear plants or hospitals, the seismic waves could be deflected even before they reach the structure.
The team's experiments and simulations reveal that the process could reduce the impact from a 7.0 magnitude earthquake to a magnitude 5.0 or even lower. However, the theory still hasn't been tested in real-world situations, and the impact of the holes on nearby unprotected infrastructure is still unknown.
A Cloak of Trees
Mathematicians at the Imperial College in London, with collaborators from France, are looking at trees to protect important structures.
Their idea is that, by surrounding an important building, such as a historic site, with a blanket of trees, the dense forest could act as a natural seismic metamaterial that would deflect the seismic waves. Such is the case in natural forests, where the irregular pattern and height of the trees provide a natural protection to the surrounding areas.
Earthquakes are one of the world's most destructive forces. Unlike hurricanes or droughts, earthquakes occur without warning and can cause substantial damage to property and life.
While the mystery of earthquakes and how to predict them is still unclear, researchers continue to look for ways to protect existing infrastructure against the devastating effects of this natural disaster.