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"Sounds Flat" -- The Discovery Files

The Discovery Files
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A paper-thin, flexible device created at Michigan State University not only can generate energy from human motion, it can act as a loudspeaker and microphone as well. The audio breakthrough could eventually lead to such consumer products as a foldable loudspeaker, a voice-activated security patch for computers and even a talking newspaper.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Flag on the play.

I'm Bob Karson with the Discovery Files, from the National Science Foundation.

Ferroelectret nanogenerator. -- "Feng" for short. Flat, flexible electronics, from a team at Michigan State, who are using Feng for sound.

(Sound effect: marching band) You see, that Michigan Spartan flag they're flying is actually a loudspeaker. You might think, "Ok, flag-speaker. Cute." But consider the possibilities. Say you're talking to a roomful of people. Instead of some big P.A. system, you could have a folded sheet in your pocket you just slap on the wall. (Sound effect: slap!) Boom, instant speaker. How about a voice-activated magazine or newspaper where each page is actually a speaker?

Wait. Voice activated? Turns out the new technology also works as a microphone. To demonstrate, the team developed a small security patch that uses voice recognition to access a computer. Only someone with your voice's unique frequency characteristics can get in.

(Sound effect: "welcome") Thank you. The whole process starts with a silicon wafer with several thin layers of material, and ions so each layer contains charged particles. Now, you've got Feng converting vibrations from sound or mechanical energy into electrical energy, or vice versa.

A flag speaker -- I guess that'd be a star-spangled banner that plays "the star-spangled banner."

"The discovery files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research -- brought to you, by you! Learn more at nsf.gov or on our podcast.

 
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