3D printed blocks can be customized to block specific noise frequencies

Technology |  2 min. read

If you live in a New York apartment, and your upstairs neighbor comes home every night at 2am and cranks up the opera — there’s a time-honored solution for that — bang a broom on the ceiling.

But wherever you live, your neighbor’s music probably isn’t the only, or even the loudest assault on your ears.  

And one “family” of noises, the kind of sound that airplanes overhead make, or construction machinery down the street — that sound is loud (you know that), it’s bad for you (hearing loss, duh — but also higher blood pressure, breathing trouble, bad sleep).  AND in case that wasn’t’ enough, those sounds are in a frequency range (low) that’s particularly hard to keep out. Ouch.

But now to the rescue comes — science!

And not surprisingly, the work was done by scientists in Singapore, which is a particularly dense and loud city.  Their solution? Little 3D-printed hollow plastic blocks — sealed with a specialized polyester film (Mylar). And those air pockets inside each block soak up the sound.  You can even customize the blocks, so that one wall can be tailored to absorb a variety of sounds. The frame for the blocks is printed from a polylactide filament. The polylactide begins with ethylene (converted to acetaldehyde, then to lactide) and the polyester’s building blocks are ethylene and xylene.

If you like to see your science, by the way, here’s what those blocks look like…

…the result?  The experimental evidence says these blocks can reduce those low frequency sounds by 30 decibels.  That’s a lot, and about six times better than the insulations we usually use now.

Now, it will be awhile before you find these blocks at Home Depot, but more good news, is that they are designed to “fit into” existing buildings so you don’t have to tear down your walls and start over.

Meantime, while you’re waiting for some sonic relief, want to know how loud it is now where you live?  Well, yes, you could just open the window and stick your head out — but if you want to get a more systematic look, the Department of Transportation has created a National Transportation Noise Map.

(Your upstairs neighbor won’t be on there, but you’ll get an idea how where you are compares to the rest of the country.  And we’ll just say, if you live in a city — sorry.)