Scientists unveil new 'sound blinds'

A new material that gives unprecedented control on sound and noise is to be trialled in hospitals and other noisy locations such as bedside motorways.

The plastic panels have the same noise reduction effect as two inches of plywood but weigh four to six times less.

The company behind the Sonoblind panels, Metasonixx, is a spin-out from the Universities of Sussex and Bristol. It was founded by Dr Gianluca Memoli, from the School of Engineering of Informatics of the University of Sussex, and by Professor Bruce Drinkwater, of Bristol University.

Dr Memoli said: "Our panels are much lighter than traditional solutions for noise abatement and, if required, can even let air and light through. Some of the panels can be used as grilles to silence air conditioning units and extractor fans or as part of blinds, to keep the noise out while the window stays open."

Trials are about to start in UK hospitals in an attempt to reduce the constant noise on busy wards. A 2020 study conducted at St George's hospital in London attributes unwanted noise mostly to medical equipment, such as ventilators, and their alarms. A study published in the British Medical Journal reported that 40% of hospital patients are bothered by noise at night with levels regularly exceeding international recommendations. Excessive noise has been implicated in the development in patients of hospitalisation-induced stress, delayed recovery, high blood pressure and poor mental health. For staff, it leads to stress and reduced performance.

Metasonixx is set to start working with Movyon, the centre for research and innovation within the Autostrade per l'Italia Group. This project will look at using metamaterial panels externally, to create quiet areas for drivers in outdoor settings.

The company has just been awarded the Armourers & Brasiers Venture Prize, which comes with £25,000 investment. Dr Memoli said: "We intend to use the Venture Prize money to manufacture panels, to be used in trials in hospitals and offices across the UK. Our designs take inspiration from devices that shape light – like lenses, holograms and LCD displays. Metasonixx's technology, based on acoustic metamaterials, can be the ultimate defence against noise at home or in open offices."

Image : Dr Gianluca Memoli demonstrating one of Metasonixx's transparent panels which are designed to allow air through

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