Sound waves could detect cracks at nuclear power plants

sound wave Image copyright Thinkstock

An academic has developed a system of sound waves that could discover dangerous cracks in pipes, aircraft engines and nuclear power plants.

Katherine Tant, of Strathclyde University, led the study.

Her work found that transmitting different types of sound waves could help to detect structural defects.

By varying the duration and frequency of the waves, the results are used to recreate an image of the interior of the scanned item.

It is now hoped the technology can be developed further and could one day be used by medical professionals and seismologists, who measure earthquakes.

Ms Tant, a research associate with the university's department of mathematics and statistics, said: "Welds are vitally important in 'safety critical' structures, like nuclear power plants, aeroplane engines and pipelines, where flaws can put lives at risk.

"However, as with any type of bond, they constitute the weak part of the structure.

Image copyright Strathclyde University
Image caption Katherine Tant's work has been published in an industry journal

"One particular type of weld, made of austenitic steel, is notoriously difficult to inspect. We were able to devise solutions involving the use of 'chirps' - coded signals with multiple frequencies which vary in time.

"The type of flaw identified depends on the method used.

"An analogy would be the type of echoes produced by clapping loudly in a cave - a single clap may allow you to judge the depth of the cave while a round of applause will give rise to a range of echoes, perhaps allowing you to locate boulders."

The study has been published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society A.

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