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WAVES OF THE FUTURE

Scientists have created sound waves 1,600 times more energetic than any other acoustic waves ever created.

The powerful waves might one day be used to replace some moving mechanical parts in industrial machinery, experts say.

Researchers from MacroSonix Corp. in Richmond, Va., described their work recently in San Diego at a meeting of the Acoustical Society of America.

Sound waves move through air by expanding and compressing the gas. Scientists have tried to pump up sound waves before by putting more energy into a small container full of gas. But the problem has been that, at a certain point, a shock wave forms. Beyond that point, all the extra energy that is put in is dissipated in the shock wave.

The MacroSonix team got around this problem by building special shapes of containers -- such as cones, bulbs and horns -- instead of the traditional cylinder. The differently shaped walls allowed the sound waves to combine in a way that prevented shock waves from forming. Instead, the energy built up to tremendous levels, with pressures of up to 500 pounds per square inch, the team reported.

One day, such powerful waves could be used to compress gases for refrigerators, for pumping hazardous fluids, or in the process of manufacturing chemicals, the researchers said.

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