Published: Sept. 7, 2023

This announcement was adapted from a version published by the University of Arizona. Read the original story.

Researchers from CU Boulder will take part in a new $30 million center to examine the potential for sound to revolutionize computing, communications, sensing disease in human tissue and more.

The New Frontiers of Sound Science and Technology Center is led by the University of Arizona and funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). Participants announced the new center at a press conference this morning featuring Arizona Governor Katie Hobbs. 

The center, which comes with an additional $30 million option over the following five years, will bring together topological acoustics (TA) researchers who exploit the properties of sound in ways that could vastly improve this emerging field of engineering and physics. Applications could include reaching quantum-like computing speeds, reducing the power usage of smartphones, and sensing changes in aging infrastructure or the natural environment due to climate change.

Massimo Ruzzene, vice chancellor for research and innovation and dean of the institutes at CU Boulder, is a co-principal investigator on the project. Other CU Boulder participants include Noah Finkelstein, professor of physics; Janet Yowell, director of Strategic Community College STEM Initiatives in the College of Engineering and Applied Science; and Xiaoyun Ding, assistant professor in the Paul M. Rady Department of Mechanical Engineering.

Among other efforts, CU Boulder researchers will help develop educational resources for undergraduate and graduate students around topological acoustics. 

“In addition to contributing to the leading edge of science and engineering of acoustics, we are thrilled to collaborate with the University of Arizona to bring the next generation of STEM education into reality,” Finkelstein said.

“We all know technologies such as the loudspeaker or the microphone, but we also use sound for sensing environments, such as with sonar and ultrasound medical imaging, and for data transmission and processing every day in your smartphone,” said center director and project principal investigator Pierre Deymier of the University of Arizona. “However, the quiet revolution advancing sound science and technology is afoot. And that is where the new center comes in.”

Other principal investigators for the project are Sara Chavarria of the University of Arizona; Chiara Daraio of the California Institute of Technology; and Andrea Alù of the City University of New York. Partners also include Georgia Tech, Spelman College, University of Alaska Fairbanks, University of California, Los Angeles and Wayne State University. 

"Scientific discovery is the engine that drives human progress and underlies all of the technologies that we benefit from today," said NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan. "NSF’s Science and Technology Centers enable our most creative scientists and engineers to open new vistas of scientific inquiry and make the discoveries that will keep the U.S. in the forefront of scientific discovery.”

Educational element

The New Frontiers of Sound center will provide training and education across multiple disciplines and to people from different backgrounds. Establishing a common language for experts in fields ranging from materials science and electrical engineering to geosciences and mathematics will help the world benefit from the work.

As part of the center, CU Boulder researchers will develop an interactive textbook—the first in the field of topological acoustics in 50 years—in collaboration with students, scientists and educational researchers. 

“This textbook and related mentoring and research programs will build new educational pathways for students into STEM, and advance our models and capacities for successful research, internship and mentoring programs,” Finkelstein said.

Yowell noted that the center team will also develop a new workshop to provide community college students with an introduction to topological acoustics. The workshop will be piloted at CU Boulder then implemented at the University of Arizona.

“This project allows for the opportunity to develop the first TA textbook for the 21st century, serving upper-level undergraduate audiences and beyond,” Yowell said. “The process for writing the textbook at the scale of a science and technology center is innovative in that we are engaging an entire community to develop this resource. Nothing like this has existed before.”