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Fire-quenching electric forcefield backpack invented

Conflag stifler to replace sprinkler systems, fire hoses

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Boffins in America say they're on the track of a backpack electro-beam forcefield device capable of snuffing out raging fires without any need for water, hoses or other traditional firefighting apparatus. Apart from portable applications, they raise the possibility that the new technology might replace building sprinkler systems with ceiling mounted conflagration-squelching zapper terminals.

"Controlling fires is an enormously difficult challenge," says Dr Ludovico Cademartiri. "Our research has shown that by applying large electric fields we can suppress flames very rapidly. We're very excited about the results."

Cademartiri and his fellow boffins at Harvard uni have tested their flame-zapping gizmo in the lab, using a 600-watt amplifier hooked up to a "wand-like probe". This setup was apparently able to snuff out test flames "more than a foot high". The team think that it should be possible to get similar effects with a less power-hungry system using 60W or less, raising the possibility of portable equipment.

How does it work, then? Basically they aren't too sure.

“Combustion is first and foremost a chemical reaction – arguably one of the most important – but it’s been somewhat neglected by most of the chemical community,” says Cademartiri. “We’re trying to get a more complete picture of this very complex interaction.”

The doc and his colleagues think that the electrical field from the zapper interacts with carbon particles - soot - in the flame to produce its effects, but candidly admit that they don't have all the ins and outs of the process nailed down. Nonetheless they consider that the tech could soon replace fixed sprinkler systems - it would apparently work well in confined spaces, less so against open-air forest fires and suchlike.

Cademartiri outlined the research at a meeting of the American Chemical Society in California this week. ®

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