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Researchers Have Invented a Quieter Airplane Toilet

Airplane toilets are loud. For some, they are downright terrifying. But chin up, frequent flyers, because a group of Brigham Young University physicists have figured out how to make them quieter. After two years of trial and error, three academic publications and thousands of flushes, the BYU researchers have invented a vacuum-assisted toilet that is about half as loud as the regular airplane commode.

"People have told us they don't want their kids to be scared to use the bathroom on a flight," said lead researcher Kent Gee, BYU professor of physics. "So, we've used good physics to solve the problem."

It's been a really hard problem to solve, given the industry hasn't been able to improve vacuum-assisted toilets over the last 25 years. That's because getting airplane toilets to flush with very little water requires a partial vacuum, which at 38,000 feet, pulls air at nearly half the speed of sound. (According to research done in Gee and Scott Sommerfeldt's lab, an air-water mix in vacuum-assisted toilets travels more than 300 miles per hour.) When things move at that speed, any disturbance at all to the flow -- like the bend of a pipe or a valve -- generates significant noise. READ MORE