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Making the world sound better – acoustic metamaterials for manipulating sound in air and underwater

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  • Full or part time
    Prof A P Hibbins
    Prof J R Sambles
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

The studentship is part of the UK’s Centre of Doctoral Training in Metamaterials (XM2) based in the Departments of Physics and Engineering on the Streatham Campus in Exeter.

Supervisory team:
Prof Alastair P Hibbins, Prof J Roy Sambles, Dr Tim Starkey (University of Exeter)

External partner:
DSTL (Prof John Smith)


1 – Acoustic Beaming

In recent years there has been a substantial amount of work concerned with the modelling, fabrication and characterisation of leaky wave antennas for RF communication [e.g. 1] to improve the capability and reduce the engineering required in such devices. In the acoustic domain, SONAR devices comprising phased arrays of transducers are actively driven to generate beam patterns and beam steers. The use of variable-impedance metasurfaces, comprised of near-resonant "meta-atoms", for transforming surface or guided waves into a different configuration of wavefield provides a much simpler and cheaper, passive, alternative to current implementations. This has not yet been attempted for acoustics metasurfaces and antennas for application in beaming sound using thin and lightweight structures, in which the "meta-atoms" are instead resonant cavities such as Helmholtz resonators, coiled elements or resonant membranes (see topic below).

2 – Acoustics and Flow

The reduction of the generation of acoustic noise generated by flow of fluids (air, water) is a far-reaching problem, affecting the commercial value of domestic appliances (such as hairdryers and vacuum cleaners) and causing environmental damage (aircraft and ship engines). This topic will explore the effect of metasurfaces to reduce or delay the onset of turbulent, noise generating fluid flow, while also using structured surfaces to filter or absorb the transmission of sound through waveguides and ducts. The latter is related to the topic of Artificial Boundary Conditions discussed below. Even without flow, the reduction of sound propagation through narrow gaps will also have great commercial value. This topic will also explore the possibility of breaking parity-time symmetry by introducing fluid flow above surfaces that support the propagation of acoustic surface waves, leading to one-wave propagation of sound [e.g. 2].

3 – Acoustic Artificial Boundary Conditions

A recent article in Physical Review Letters [3] reported an analogous study in acoustics to observation of the spontaneous emission of dyes with varying distance from a mirror (Drexhage’s experiment for sound). This revealed the seminal understanding that a source’s environment determines radiative damping and resonant frequency. The authors considered a Chinese gong in proximity to an acoustic mirror (rigid wall). The work associated with this topic will explore the use of surfaces that impart different boundary conditions, such as resonant structures and porous materials. We will also explore the effect of non-locality (spatial dispersion), loss, partially transmissive boundaries, layered structures and surfaces with flow along them, as well as sources that are more complex that simple dipoles.

4 – Membrane Metamaterials

In contrast to conducting electromagnetic waveguides, acoustic waveguides in rigid materials have no cut-off. We have already developed holey surfaces that prevent sound propagation using a so-called "double fishnet structure" [4], or the use of acoustically soft (pressure-release) materials reintroduces the concept of cut-offs (however pressure release materials do not exist in air). An alternative mean to introduce an airborne cut-off condition is to use membranes across holes and within waveguides. The allowed eigenmodes of the membrane within the void defines the frequencies that are permitted to propagate, and below the lowest order eigenmode, only decaying fields can exist. An array of membrane-capped holes will therefore impart a boundary condition that supports surface waves that decay exponentially into the effective substrate. Similarly, because the phase velocity falls to zero exactly at the cutoff we are able to explore advanced phase control and super-squeezing of sound waves in narrow channels. Such media transmit sound waves with no distortion or phase change across the entire length of the material and enable new sound imaging and detection modalities. More complex membrane-type metamaterial also show great potential for broadband absorption [e.g. 5].

[1] Minatti et al., IEEE Trans. Ant. Prop. 63, 1288 (2015)

[2] Yang et al., Phys. Rev. Lett. 114, 114301 (2015)

[3] Langguth et al., Phys. Rev. Lett. 116, 224301 (2016)

[4] Murray et al., J. Acoust. Soc. Am. 136, 980 (2014)

[5] Wang et al., Appl. Phys. Lett. 108, 041905 (2016)

Funding Notes

The 4 year studentship (value approx. £105,000) is externally funded by an industry partner.
It is of value around £105,000, which includes £13,000 towards the research project (travel, consumables, equipment etc.), tuition fees, and an annual, tax-free stipend of approximately £16,500 per year for UK/EU students.

Eligible candidates: UK/EU nationals only due to industry sponsor requirements.

Please read the application criteria carefully before applying and provide all evidence required:

How good is research at University of Exeter in Physics?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 40.20

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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