Sound-Suppressing Fabric for Wellness-Enhanced Spaces

Published 03 July 2024

2 min read

As called out in our Look Ahead 2024 and signalled by the rise of house hushing and quiet luxury, there is a growing consumer desire for tranquility to counter the noise of everyday life. In an attempt to help make our built environments quieter, researchers at MIT have developed a sound-suppressing fabric.

While there are many sound-dampening acoustic products on the market (see Neocon 2024 for the latest sustainable and playful designs), thicker materials tend to be better. However, MIT’s new fabric could offer more scope; it’s thin as a human hair and lightweight but still efficient, making it more practical to implement into real-world spaces.

To create the innovative material, a piezoelectric fibre is interlaced into a traditional textile base (like silk, canvas or muslin). This smart fibre vibrates when a voltage is applied to it, and these vibrations can be exploited to suppress sound in different ways. As such, the team has devised two techniques.

The first method works in a similar vein to noise-cancelling headphones; soundwaves are generated via the fabric’s vibrations to interfere with unwanted noise. The second method – which is better suited to larger spaces like rooms, cars and planes – involves the fabric being held still to quash vibrations, thus preventing noise from being transmitted through the fabric and beyond. An experiment using a silk-based fabric found that sound transmission could be reduced by up to 75%, depending on how the vibrations are mediated.

Moving forward, the team want to explore the use of their fabric to block sound of multiple frequencies, as well as how performance can be improved through different fabric constructions and parameters for the piezoelectric fibres.

For more wellbeing-focused design for spaces, see Clerkenwell Design Week 2024.

While there are many sound-dampening acoustic products on the market (see Neocon 2024 for the latest sustainable and playful designs), thicker materials tend to be better. However, MIT’s new fabric could offer more scope; it’s thin as a human hair and lightweight but still efficient, making it more practical to implement into real-world spaces.

To create the innovative material, a piezoelectric fibre is interlaced into a traditional textile base (like silk, canvas or muslin). This smart fibre vibrates when a voltage is applied to it, and these vibrations can be exploited to suppress sound in different ways. As such, the team has devised two techniques.

The first method works in a similar vein to noise-cancelling headphones; soundwaves are generated via the fabric’s vibrations to interfere with unwanted noise. The second method – which is better suited to larger spaces like rooms, cars and planes – involves the fabric being held still to quash vibrations, thus preventing noise from being transmitted through the fabric and beyond. An experiment using a silk-based fabric found that sound transmission could be reduced by up to 75%, depending on how the vibrations are mediated.

Moving forward, the team want to explore the use of their fabric to block sound of multiple frequencies, as well as how performance can be improved through different fabric constructions and parameters for the piezoelectric fibres.

For more wellbeing-focused design for spaces, see Clerkenwell Design Week 2024.