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audio applications of Terfenol

Allen L. Barker alb at datafilter.com
Fri Nov 7 13:52:10 EST 2003



[Here is a _Fortune_ article about an Iowa company which has
discovered an economical way to produce a metal called Terfenol.  The
company's web site is
     http://www.etrema-usa.com/products/audio/.
The metal has some fascinating properties, and will no doubt be
incorporated into many useful inventions.  Among the possible uses, it
has the potential for the creation of efficient voice-to-skull devices
(and voice-to-body, voice-from-object, etc.).  It could be used in
bone-conduction implants, for example -- as with the tooth-telephone.
That application has some positive uses in consensual and therapeutic
settings, but could also be used as a mind control or harassment
method in the hands of torturers.  So it is important to be aware of
the technology, including its possible misuses.

I have included the whole article below.  For those who do not want to
read the whole article, here is a selection of brief excerpts related
to possible mind control applications:

     "Relax," he says as he places the cold disc on my forehead. "We're
     just turning your head into a speaker."

     A local businessman recently placed ten of the discs inside the
     drywall of his new house in Des Moines, creating a surround-sound
     music system. And Peter Jones, the high-end department store
     in London, turned the windows of its storefront into an audio
     advertisement -- as shoppers pass, they encounter a mysterious,
     uniform blanket of sound that seems to emanate from the windows
     themselves.

     The common ingredient in all of Etrema's offerings is something called
     Terfenol-D, a metal that changes its shape -- as quickly as 20,000
     times a second -- when exposed to a magnetic field. A tiny amount of
     the metal -- about a splinter's worth -- causes invisible vibrations
     that are rapid and powerful enough to move the surface of an entire
     tabletop, allowing it to transmit sound (see box).

     (Another of Terfenol's advantages is that it doesn't seem to
     deteriorate with time or use, making it ideal for such applications.)

     Terfenol, a combination of terbium and dysprosium, two rare earth
     metals, was developed by U.S. Navy engineers at the Naval Ordnance
     Laboratory in Washington, D.C., in the 1970s. The Navy expected that
     Terfenol's powerful vibrations would be useful in sonar but could not
     produce the metal affordably.

     After a career doing R&D work for the CIA, Conley came
     back to his native Iowa because of Etrema.

     A local church hired the firm to build a special pew so that a deaf
     person could hear the service.

     Barry Mersky, a dentist in Maryland, bought Terfenol in 1995 in hope
     of creating a "tooth phone," a small device placed on a tooth that
     allows people to communicate in high-noise environments.

     Yet in August the U.S. military -- which must approve any Terfenol
     products sold abroad -- divulged that Etrema's fortress had been
     infiltrated.
]


------------------------------


Metal Heads
Scientists in Iowa have developed a magic metal that can turn walls
into speakers and remove the smell from manure. If only they can
keep those Chinese spies from stealing their formula ...
http://www.fortune.com/fortune/smallbusiness/technology/articles/0,15114,534705,00.html
FORTUNE SMALL BUSINESS
Tuesday, October 28, 2003
By Cora Daniels

Five of Etrema's top executives are sitting in a conference room
listening to jock rock. The space is drab even by conference-room
standards, furnished with an oversized green marble table on which sit
two fist-sized chrome discs plugged into a portable CD player. But the
music sounds as if it is coming from everywhere. The quality is so
good that when I close my eyes, I could swear that Queen's Freddie
Mercury is standing in the room in front of me, promising, "We will,
we will rock you!"

Michael Conley, the company's president, pats the green marble -- and
tells me that's where the music is coming from. Last August, Etrema --
an innovative technology firm nestled in the cornfields of Ames, Iowa
-- started selling those chrome discs for $1,500 a pair. Called
Whispering Windows, they can turn any wall, window, or drab conference
table into a speaker. When Conley lifts the discs from the table,
Freddie falls silent.

Then Conley tells me to stick my fingers in my ears. "Relax," he says
as he places the cold disc on my forehead. "We're just turning your
head into a speaker." A few seconds later, even though my ears are
plugged, power chords blast through my skull. It feels like the loud
crunch that fills my head when I bite into a tortilla chip, except the
crunch is music. The stereo sound is inescapable. I can't say it's a
pleasant experience -- afterward I will down a bottle of Tylenol --
but it's not every day that your head serves as a piece of stereo
equipment.

Whispering Windows is Etrema's first commercial product and can be
ordered directly from the company by phone. A local businessman
recently placed ten of the discs inside the drywall of his new house
in Des Moines, creating a surround-sound music system. And Peter
Jones, the high-end department store in London, turned the windows of
its storefront into an audio advertisement -- as shoppers pass, they
encounter a mysterious, uniform blanket of sound that seems to emanate
from the windows themselves. Spokesmen for the store say that the
speakers draw 49% more people to the store's displays. (Etrema is now
trying to secure a major retailer to sell a $300 portable version
called the Presenter, aimed at business travelers, that can plug into
laptops and give any room a top-quality sound system for
presentations. A toy version, the Soundbug, is available for $20 from
Amazon and OfficeDepot.com. Despite the poorer sound quality, teenage
boys seem to like it.)

Whispering Windows is just the first of dozens of products that Etrema
is hoping to launch in the near future, including a wireless version
and an advanced sonar system for the U.S. Navy. The common ingredient
in all of Etrema's offerings is something called Terfenol-D, a metal
that changes its shape -- as quickly as 20,000 times a second -- when
exposed to a magnetic field. A tiny amount of the metal -- about a
splinter's worth -- causes invisible vibrations that are rapid and
powerful enough to move the surface of an entire tabletop, allowing it
to transmit sound (see box). Terfenol is currently thought to be the
"smartest" -- i.e., the most reactive to its environment -- metal in
the world. And for the time being at least, the 40 employees of Etrema
are the only people in the country who know how to affordably
manufacture it.

Terfenol's potential uses are vast. Etrema's scientists are figuring
out how to use it to recycle car tires, help the hearing-impaired, and
take the smell out of hog waste (by separating out the ammonia). With
so many products to develop, CEO Bill Flowers says, it can be
difficult to concentrate on the most promising ones. "We've really
struggled with it," he says.

But that's not the biggest problem. For while Etrema currently holds a
monopoly on the world's smartest metal, its executives predict that
within about seven years competitors will have figured out a way to
make Terfenol more cheaply -- or worse, to manufacture an even smarter
metal. (Etrema's scientists are already hard at work developing
Terfenol's successor.)

"It is a unique problem," says Jon Snodgrass, the company's chief
scientist. And it's one that gives Etrema's scientists an extra
incentive to develop new applications for Terfenol as quickly as
possible. All employees go on what they call "missionary calls" in the
hope of persuading companies to hire Etrema -- which brought in $10
million in revenues last year -- to develop some Terfenol-based
application. So far, Etrema has used Terfenol in high-pressure pumps
for oil refineries, brake systems for the auto industry, and
manufacturing equipment for the agricultural-machinery
businesses. (Another of Terfenol's advantages is that it doesn't seem
to deteriorate with time or use, making it ideal for such
applications.) "We are a solution looking for problems," says
Snodgrass.

Terfenol, a combination of terbium and dysprosium, two rare earth
metals, was developed by U.S. Navy engineers at the Naval Ordnance
Laboratory in Washington, D.C., in the 1970s. The Navy expected that
Terfenol's powerful vibrations would be useful in sonar but could not
produce the metal affordably.

Ames Laboratory, a U.S. Department of Energy lab on the Iowa State
University campus, was renowned as the home of the country's
preeminent earth-metals experts after its scientists helped purify
uranium for the Manhattan Project in the 1940s. So when the Navy
sought partners to unleash Terfenol's potential, it came to
Iowa. "When I realized Terfenol was born, it was a major breakthrough,
but there was more to do. I immediately went to Ames," says Arthur
Clark, the Navy scientist who discovered Terfenol.

In 1987, Etrema was spun off from Ames Laboratory, with the charge of
discovering a cheap way of producing Terfenol -- and of creating
technology jobs in Iowa. Aside from the high-profile Ames Lab, there
were few options for those with technology degrees, forcing many to
leave the agricultural state. Today Etrema is home to several Iowan
scientists. After a career doing R&D work for the CIA, Conley came
back to his native Iowa because of Etrema. If it weren't for Etrema,
Snodgrass says, he never would have been able to use his degree in
metallurgy from Iowa State in his home state.

Although Etrema sold Terfenol to individual developers, it wasn't
until 2000 that the metal became affordable for the broad market. The
world, however, didn't take much notice. By the end of 2000 only a few
dozen organizations -- corporate R&D departments, university labs, and
"crazy inventors," as Flowers puts it -- had purchased samples of
Terfenol. And most of them didn't know what to do with the
metal. "When we called up our first customers a year later, 90% still
had the Terfenol sitting in their desk drawer," says Flowers.

Still, progress had been made. Although Etrema was concentrating on
selling Terfenol to outside developers, some interested customers
hired the company to do the developing itself. One wealthy businessman
handed Etrema $1.5 million to stop the slight vibrations on his yacht
when he hit top speeds. Terfenol did the trick, allowing him to dine
at sea without having his meal shimmy off the plate. A local church
hired the firm to build a special pew so that a deaf person could hear
the service. And even some of those crazy inventors bore fruit. Barry
Mersky, a dentist in Maryland, bought Terfenol in 1995 in hope of
creating a "tooth phone," a small device placed on a tooth that allows
people to communicate in high-noise environments. Mersky's six-person
company, ESComms, based in Bethesda, Md., now receives funding from
the Army and Navy, whose interest was piqued after the Sept. 11
terrorist attacks showed that firefighters had trouble hearing radio
communications inside the World Trade Center. The dentist is hoping to
have a working prototype for the military to start using by next year.

Still, in 2001, hoping to raise Etrema's profile, Flowers decided to
get more disciplined with contract work -- focusing on bigger
companies and doing all the development in-house. "We are looking for
companies like GM instead of the guy in his garage with a great idea,"
says Flowers. Remington is now working with Etrema to develop a dry
shaver with Terfenol. The auto industry -- Etrema won't share any
company names -- is looking at developing Etrema-made fuel injectors.

 From the parking lot, etrema's headquarters look like any generic
office park, albeit one in the quiet of Iowa. The small one- and
two-story buildings are engulfed by wide-open space that extends for
miles. The lab's interior, however, seems more like the set of a James
Bond film. Etrema employs only 40 people -- all of whom presumably
recognize one another -- but the scientists are required to wear
identification badges at all times. Infrared key passes are needed to
open any door. Every time I walk into a room, it seems, a manager
places his hands over a computer screen. What is Etrema working on
now? No comment. How is Terfenol made? No comment. How long does the
process take? How much Terfenol does Etrema make a day? No comment. No
comment.

Yet in August the U.S. military -- which must approve any Terfenol
products sold abroad -- divulged that Etrema's fortress had been
infiltrated. Two years ago the firm's computer system was hacked into,
most likely by spies for the People's Republic of China, which,
according to the Pentagon, is actively trying to steal the formula for
Terfenol. Terbium and dysprosium are most commonly found in the Boutou
region of northern China. Right now the U.S. government pays China for
those materials. But if scientists from China discover how to
manufacture Terfenol -- Etrema's Snodgrass says that three Chinese
companies have already started making pirated versions -- the metal's
still-fragile reputation could be harmed by the cheaper, imported
version.

Etrema is seeking legal action to enforce patents, but it is difficult
to pursue intellectual-property issues in the communist
country. Another option would be to use the courts to go after
customers here in the U.S. that might soon try to buy Terfenol and its
products from the Chinese. "The lifeblood of Etrema is Terfenol," says
Conley. "So whether we like it or not, we will have to protect that."

Best-case scenario? Etrema enters a partnership with one of the
Chinese companies and uses it as a supplier. Worst case? "We make a
lot of lawyers rich but won't be able to do a damn thing about the
problem because it is in China," says Snodgrass. The Department of
Energy is also investigating the hacking incident to see whether
national security was compromised.

Back in the conference room, Flowers tells me that despite the
challenges, Etrema's scientists need to have just one of their
products catch on. Then, he says, they'll all get rich. "We're a small
company in Iowa," he says, while Queen's fighting-to-the-end anthem
"We Are the Champions" rocks in the background. "But we don't plan to
stay that way."


------------------------------


How Etrema Makes Windows Whisper
http://www.fortune.com/fortune/smallbusiness/technology/articles/0,15114,534707,00.html
FORTUNE SMALL BUSINESS
Tuesday, October 28, 2003
By Cora Daniels

Terfenol-d is a specially formulated metal alloy made from rare earth
metals that changes shape -- up to 20,000 times a second -- in the
presence of a magnetic field. To make Whispering Windows, the
scientists from Etrema wrap a piece of Terfenol, about the size of a
splinter, in copper coil. The coil carries an electrical current,
which creates a magnetic field, causing the Terfenol to vibrate
quickly. This small motor is then placed into a disc-shaped chrome
case, which also contains an audio jack into which a user can plug a
CD player, for instance.

Most speakers push the air directly in front of them; the resulting
waves in the air produce sound. Terfenol is so powerful that the discs
are capable of vibrating an entire tabletop, wall, or window. Those
vibrations -- though invisible -- displace a large amount of air,
producing a uniform, rich sound. The surface stops vibrating when the
disc is lifted, and the noise ceases.


-- 
Mind Control: TT&P ==> http://www.datafilter.com/mc
Home page: http://www.datafilter.com/alb
Allen Barker




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