We have made another step forward on the road to the future, which may sound strange since we are always moving in that direction. I mean the future as outlined by so many sci-fi and near-future fantasies. Scientists at Harvard succeeded in a proof of concept of a clear, ionic speaker which paves the way to the creation of greater bioengineering and soft computing technologies.
Christopher Keplinger, Jeong-Yun Sun, Choon Chiang Foo, Philipp Rothermund, George Whitesides, and Zhigang Suo published their report for today’s edition of sciencemag.org entitled Stretchable, Transparent, Ionic Conductors. The author affiliations are from the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, the Kavli Institute for Bionano Science and Technology, the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, as well as the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering all of which was out of Harvard University, along with the Institute of High Performance Computing from Singapore.
The group has successfully created a completely transparent speaker from materials that use ionic power verse electrical power. By making a speaker they have proved that the ionic conduction and distribution they have created solves the problems of past ionic conduction. While the use of ions are more efficient, they are larger and slower than electrons. In the past, ionic conductors have proved problematic for not being able to distribute a charge, which vaporizes the medium, thus breaking down the whole structure.
Whitesides and Suo, the leads on this project, found a way around these issues providing not only sustainability in the model, but proving that they can use ionic conduction to meet all the demands of expansion and contraction necessary to produce all frequencies of sound waves. This is important because it shows that the ‘slow’ ionic structure can respond quickly and agility, as you would need in order to produce a speaker which has many changes every second.
The speaker consists of a thin sheet of rubber placed between two layers of a saltwater gel. As a high-voltage signal runs across the surface and through the layers, it forces the rubber to quickly contract and vibrate. In this way it is able to produce the entire audible spectrum from 20 hertz to 20 kilohertz.
Paraphrasing Jeong-Yun Sun comments on the experiment:
As experiments with ionic conductors have been done in the past, it may seem somewhat counter-intuitive to use it in a system which requires agility and quick actuation. It was this every reason that the researches created a speaker using the material. By utilizing a rubber layer to insulate, they were able to have some control over the voltage where the gel connects with the electrodes in order to prevent any unwanted chemical changes. By using alternating current in conjunction with the rubber sheet capacitor, the group was able to evenly distribute the charge over the entire area. This amount of control, in contrast with past experiments using direct current which is very slow, allowed the charge to be rapidly distributed thousands of time every second, allowing it to function as a speaker.
This provides the robust and flexible structure needed for other applications. While the group is looking at integrating the technology into screens, from LCDs to computer screen to smartphones, in order to create a large speaker integrated into the technology, there are many other potential applications. With this functional ionic speaker, the Harvard scientists pave the way to soft computers — computers made of different components than today that can be integrated into a biological structure — as well as biomechanics integration into a biological structure.
This technology could pave the way for creating artificial muscle, optical technologies such as contacts that could change for telescopic or microscopic vision, wearable technology, as well as integration into a nervous system. The wonder is that the gel and systems could be integrated into a biological structure, like our bodies, and not broken down by it. It could potentially be used to interact with our nervous system, which would provide the power and control to the device, this is due to the fact that our neurons already conduct and produce ions for our nervous system and communications.
We could see smart windows come out of this technology. A window that could actively and in real time cancel all outside noise could be a very handy piece of technology integrated into homes and businesses.
The amazing and exciting thing about this proof of concept is not what it is, but what it is laying the foundation for. These brilliant Harvard scientists are paving the way to a future of smaller, better functioning, integrating technology in ways we can only imagine in our highest fantasy, all with a clear speaker. The future is moving into this area of technology, throw in quantum computing and communications, and we are starting to make out a picture of what life on this planet may look like. More integrated, less intrusive on the outside environment, where our technology is as normal to us as using our eyes or hands.
By Iam Bloom