Featured resident: Gianluca Memoli
The FuseBox offers a different approach to work by providing a collaborative research and development space for innovators. Representing the University of Sussex, Gianluca Memoli has been a honorary resident at the FuseBox since August 2018.
We borrowed some of Gianluca’s valuable time away from his exploration into the complicated and exciting world of sound to find out how his work initially got started and if he could explain the concept of acoustic levitation to us…
Hi Gianluca, what is your official title and company?
My name is Gianluca Memoli. Most of the time I respond to the title of “Lecturer” at the University of Sussex, but more and more often I am also one known as one of the co-founders of Metasonics.
Tell us a little bit about your background
I studied physics (mainly very cold stuff and lasers), but I moved to engineering in 1999, after discovering the untold science behind bubbles… Four years along the way, I also started working on environmental noise. Finally, in 2006, the two paths merged: I officially became a bubble scientist. Bubbles have taken me on the Zero-G plane and in the Guinness World of Records. Acoustics has taken me to work as consultant for transport infrastructures and to work side-by-side with different creatives. The strange relationship between bubbles and sound led me to explore novel ways of fighting cancer and to countless outreach events.
In 2016, when I arrived at Sussex, I moved to acoustic meta-materials: normal materials (like plastic, or wood, or paper), engineered at the microscale to shape the sound going through them. With those, I am now building lenses and filters, to achieve with sound the same control we have on light.
And what are you working on in the FuseBox?
I want to design novel ways to deliver sound in VR and XR, without headphones. I want to explore new interactions where sound has a shape, that can be controlled and even touched.
What first attracted you to work with sound?
The fact that, even if sound is all around us, most of the time we accept it passively. We would never accept a similar situation for light….and I believe this is because managing wanted/unwanted sounds has been quite difficult, so far.
To someone completely new to the concept, can you explain what acoustic levitation is and why it’s important?
Acoustic levitation is a way to manipulate solids or liquids without touching them, using ultrasound (i.e. sound we cannot hear). Imagine a pair of tweezers, made of sound, to make molecular cuisine in mid-air or to analyse (and mix) chemicals you don’t want to touch. It works shaping the sound in a net (if you can afford two opposite sets of speakers) or in a cup (if you want to use just one set): objects tend to go to areas where there is less sound….just like balls going down a slope.
Forces are not strong, though, but people have levitated fishes in a ball of water or small insects. Humans are quite a far reach. For me, acoustic levitation is first an untapped technology. More importantly, it is a way to “visualise” sound and the amount of control that can be achieved on it.
What FuseBox events have you taken part in since being a resident?
I have attended the evening VR meetups and tried to spend as much time as possible talking to the other Residents and being amazed by their work.
Who have you met through the FuseBox?
I met Gillian, who works at the interface through music and theatre; Gareth, who wants to share his architectural projects on mobile; Rachel, who works on ways to add extra depths to our own world; Michael, who introduced me to ambisonics; Phil and Rosalie, who smiled when I described how friendly I was finding the Fusebox; Ed and Sophie, who give voices to objects; Andy, who took me into a virtual pub…and many, many others.
What makes Brighton so special as a city to work in?
Brighton is buzzing with creativity. It is a unique place to discuss innovation with people in the same frame of mind…that mix of craziness and vision that makes the world spin. At the Fusebox, in particular, I found a special environment where everything seems possible.
How do people find out more about you?
Fellow residents can find me on the FuseBox Slack group. Otherwise, find my details on my university page http://www.sussex.ac.uk/profiles/390809