The Loh Down On Science

The next generation of audio speakers is like nothing you've seen before!

Eliza Grinnell / SEAS Communications

Jeong-Yun Sun (left) and Christoph Keplinger (right) demonstrate their transparent ionic speaker. It uses a signal conducted by ions, rather than electrons, to vibrate a rubber membrane.

Squishy.  Stretchy.  Clear.   This is not your father's audio speaker.

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science,

Bringing transparency to sound!

Harvard engineers have developed a new device that looks like a Jell-O frisbee.  But it's not for throwing.  Or eating.  It's for listening!

Why a squishy, see-through device?  To listen to music with a speaker as slick as your smartphone. 

The squishy speaker contains a thin sheet of rubber sandwiched between layers of hydrogels.  These are absorbent materials that hold together like solids but squish like liquids.  They contain charged molecules called ions.

When a high-voltage signal passes through, the ions start moving.  They make the rubber sheet go thumpity, thump, thump, and that makes sound.

It may also cancel sound, so stick it on the window when your neighbor fires up the leaf blower. Ahhh.

A squishy speaker is just the beginning.  Stretchy electronics—known as soft machines—could be really useful in wet environments that would ruin ordinary circuitry—like in medical implants.  Here's your soft-machine pacemaker!

Which also plays the Gypsy Kings!  If that’s what gets grandpa’s heartrate up.

***** For more 90-SECOND SCIENCE FACTS, click here.*****

The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, in partnership with the University of California, Irvine, and 89.3 KPCC. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.


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