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What's the buzz? Teens can't stand it

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What's the buzz? Teens can't stand it

BARRY, Wales--Though he did not know it at the time, the idea came to Howard Stapleton when he was 12 and visiting a factory with his father, a manufacturing executive in London.

Opening the door to a room where workers were using high-frequency welding equipment, he found he could not bear to go inside.

"The noise!" he complained.

"What noise?" the grownups asked.

Now 39, Stapleton has taken the lesson he learned that day--that children can hear sounds at higher frequencies than adults can--to fashion a novel device that he hopes will provide a solution to the eternal problem of obstreperous teenagers who hang around outside stores and cause trouble.

The device, called the Mosquito ("It's small and annoying," Stapleton said), emits a high-frequency pulsing sound that, he said, can be heard by most people younger than 20 and almost no one older than 30. The sound is designed to so irritate young people that after several minutes, they cannot stand it and go away.

"It's loud and squeaky and it just goes through you," said Jodie Evans, 15, who was shopping at the store even though she was supposed to be in school. "It gets inside you."

Using his children as guinea pigs, he tried a number of different noise and frequency levels, testing a single-toned unit before settling on a pulsating tone which, he said, is more unbearable, and which can be broadcast at 75 decibels, within government auditory-safety limits. "I didn't want to make it hurt," Stapleton said. "It just has to nag at them."

He is considering introducing a much louder unit that can be switched on in emergencies with a panic button. It would be most useful when youths swarm into stores and begin stealing en masse, a phenomenon known in Britain as steaming. The idea would be to blast them with such an unacceptably loud, high noise--a noise inaudible to older shoppers--that they would immediately leave.

"It's very difficult to shoplift," Stapleton said, "when you have your fingers in your ears."

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