Stretchy clear bio speaker makes a noise at Harvard

AUTHOR: Inavate

A stretchy, clear speaker made from gel and rubber was recently demonstrated at Harvard University. Scientists ran a high voltage signal across layers of saltwater gel that forced a sandwiched sheet of rubber to rapidly contract and vibrate and play music from a laptop. The demonstration, published in Science, revealed the potential of high-voltage devices that use electrical charges carried by ions and not electrons.

“Ionic conductors could replace certain electronic systems; they even offer several advantages,” said co-lead author Jeong-Yun Sun, a postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS).

“We’d like to change people’s attitudes about where ionics can be used,” added Christoph Keplinger, co-lead author who worked on the project as a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard SEAS and in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology. 

“Our system doesn’t need a lot of power, and you can integrate it anywhere you would need a soft, transparent layer that deforms in response to electrical stimuli—for example, on the screen of a TV, laptop, or smartphone to generate sound or provide localized haptic feedback—and people are even thinking about smart windows. You could potentially place this speaker on a window and achieve active noise cancellation, with complete silence inside.”

The research group is led by Zhigang Suo, the Allen E. and Marilyn M. Puckett Professor of Mechanics and Materials at Harvard SEAS. 

Suo teamed up with George M. Whitesides, the Woodford L. and Ann A. Flowers University Professor in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, co-director of the Kavli Institute at Harvard, and a Core Faculty Member at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard.

Sam Liss, director of business development in Harvard’s Office of Technology Development, is working closely with the Suo and Whitesides labs to commercialise the technology. 

Their plan is to work with companies in a range of product categories, including tablet computing, smartphones, wearable electronics, consumer audio devices, and adaptive optics.

“With wearable computing devices becoming a reality, you could imagine eventually having a pair of glasses that toggles between wide-angle, telephoto, or reading modes based on voice commands or gestures,” suggests Liss.