Forget the water hose! Firefighters of the future may simply "zap" fire out of existence with an electric wand:
Currently, firefighters use water, foam, powder, and other substances to tame flames. But a team from Harvard University's Whitesides Research Group has shown that electric fields can snuff out fires too—potentially reducing water damage as well as environmental threats posed by fire retardants.
The scientists connected a thin wire to a 600-watt amplifier—roughly as powerful as a high-end car stereo and about as big as a file cabinet—plugged into the wall.
The "wand" system generated an electric field with the strength of a million volts per meter, "approximately the field necessary to generate a spark in dry air," said chemist Ludovico Cademartiri, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard.
Whenever the researchers brought the electric wand close a burner emanating thin jets of fire up to 20 inches (50 centimeters) tall, the flames almost instantly went out.