The first time I saw it, I was amazed. The comforting warm that radiated from it, the welcoming hue that overflowed the room, the occasional snap that filled the silence of the night. Of course, I am speaking of fire. And with any good fire, there is always an accompanying pale of water. Knowing that water puts out flame is one of the first things that we learn; yet the same simple principle is applied today to combat wildfires and house fires. However, this often causes water damage to the environment, not to mention the need for large amounts of water to be available. But what if there was a way to extinguish such fires with just a flick of a wand?
No, I am not speaking of Harry Potter’s magic wand. Scientists at Harvard have developed their own “wand” that can extinguish flame, using electric fields. The “wand” generates an electrical field that can suppress flames very quickly and at a distance as well. Researcher Ludovico Cademartiri demonstrated at the 241st National Meeting of American Chemical Society how such a device worked. He plugged in a 600-watt amplifier and attached the “wand” to the amplifier. With the power of 600 watts, the “wand” was able to generate an electric field of about 1 million volts per meter. While that seems like an absurd amount of energy, 1 million volts per meter is “approximately the field necessary to generate a spark in dry air”, and is therefore, not dangerous to a healthy human. The scientists proceeded to move the rod towards an open flame, about 50 centimeters tall, and almost instantly, the flame died.
A phenomenon like this deems the word “wand” almost fitting, but the concepts behind it are actually quite simple. Inside of any flame, there are electrons, Ions and soot, which all respond to electric fields. By generating a current through the “wand” an electrical field is created and like opposite sides of a magnet, the field generated by the wand repels the electrons, ions and soot inside of the fire. This resulted in the fire being, “pushed” away from its fuel source, and without fuel, the fire will die.
Of course, in real life, firefighters are faced with much larger flames, so a small wand would not be much help. However, scientists are working to increase the distance that the field affects flames, and increase the power of the field generated, so large scale fires can be combated. As this technology develops, the size of the “wand” will decrease, as will the wattage it uses. It seems that only a tenth of what Cademartiri used in his demonstration is needed to put out a that same 50 centimeter flame. Nonetheless, adapting this electrical “wand” for the use of firefighters would be very beneficial to both the economic and environmental aspects of firefighting. Advancements in the “wand” technology will allow firefighters to potentially replace their use of water to put out flames, effectively removing the issue of water damage to the building as well as their reliance of an available water source. Cademartiri also reported that the “wand” could be used to control the heat distribution of flames, so this technology would not be limited to just firefighters. Any technology that requires constant care for overheating can benefit from this technology, as the “wand” and redistribute the heat to prevent overheating.