Tag Archives: MIT assistant professor of chemistry Mircea Dincă

16-year-old Maker creates device that converts breath to speech

A high school student from India Arsh Shah Dilbagi has devised a product that enables individuals with disabling diseases to communicate via breath, for a cost a hundred times less than similar products on the market.


Dilbagi’s Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) prototype, entitled “TALK,” was created using a pair of Atmel powered Arduinos. The first Arduino converts a user’s breath into Morse code with the help of a MEMS Microphone. The MEMS Microphone uses incredibly sensitive diaphragms to sense event he slightest breathe. “TALK expects a person to be able to give two distinguishable exhales (by varying intensity/time) for converting into electrical signals,” Dilbagi writes.

The second Atmel based microprocessor translates the code generated by the MEMS into a computer-generated voice. The Maker elaborates on the voice functionality by stating, “TALK features two modes — one to communicate in English and another to give specific commands/phrases, and 9 different voices.”

Dilbagi, who prefers to go by the nickname Robo, notes that 1.4% of the population suffers from some sort of malady that inhibits their ability to speak. His affordable design could allow for millions of individuals across the planet to communicate in a way they had never been able to before.

Of course, assistive communication devices like the Intel-based one used by Stephen Hawking are considerably more advanced. The software keyboard Dilbagi uses can predict words so he only has to enter a few characters — entered by stopping a moving cursor at the right moment — before the program can complete the word or phrase.

TALK has already seen some success in the field, as Robo notes he “was able to arrange a meeting with the Head of Neurology at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, New Delhi and tested Talk (under supervision of doctor and in controlled environment) with a person suffering from SEM and Parkinson’s Disease.” Dilbagi was excited to learn a patient was, “able to give two distinguishable signals using his breath and the device worked perfectly.”

Now, this is what we call ‘making’ a difference! Using the powers of today’s Maker Movement, the 16 year-old student developed a device that accomplishes the same basic tasks as a $7,000-10,000 computer for on $80 — all while enhancing the lives of others along the way. From 3D-printed prosthetics to brain-controlled devices, Dilbagi joins a number of other Makers who have turned to AVR powered technology to help others overcome disabilities.

Dilbagi’s incredibly innovative project was part of Google Global Science Fair, where he was the only finalist from Asia in this year’s competition. To read the entire TALK project breakdown, head over to Robo’s design write-up.


New material for flat semiconductors (usable bandgap)

Scientists have long worked to harness the unusual properties of graphene, a two-dimensional sheet of carbon atoms. However, graphene lacks a single critical characteristic that would make it even more useful: a property known as a bandgap, which is essential for designing devices like computer chips and solar cells.

As such, researchers at MIT and Harvard University are currently experimenting with a two-dimensional material whose properties are very similar to graphene, albeit with certain distinct advantages – including the fact that this material naturally boasts a usable bandgap.

Photo Credit: MIT

The research, just published online in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, was conducted by MIT assistant professor of chemistry Mircea Dincă and 7 co-authors.

The new material, essentially a combination of nickel and an organic compound known as HITP, also has the advantage of self-assembly. Indeed, its constituents naturally assemble themselves, a “bottom-up” approach that could lend itself to easier manufacturing and tuning of desired properties by adjusting relative amounts of the ingredients.

According to Dincă, two-dimensional materials that possess extraordinary properties is “all the rage these days, and for good reason.”

 To be sure, graphene offers optimized electrical and thermal conductivity, as well as considerable strength. However, lack of a bandgap forces researchers to modify it for certain uses, which tends to degrade the properties that made the material desirable in the first place.

The new compound, Ni3(HITP)2, shares graphene’s perfectly hexagonal honeycomb structure. In addition, multiple layers of the material naturally form perfectly aligned stacks, with the openings at the centers of the hexagons all of precisely the same size, approximately two nanometers (billionths of a meter) across.

During a series of initial experiments, researchers studied the material in bulk form, rather than as flat sheets. As Dincă notes, this makes the current results – including excellent electrical conductivity – even more impressive, as these properties should be better yet in a 2-D version of the material.

“There’s every reason to believe that the properties of the particles are worse than those of a sheet,” he explains. “[However], they’re still impressive.”

Photo Credit: MIT

Perhaps most importantly, this is just the first example of what could eventually be a diverse family of similar materials built from different metals or organic compounds.

“Now we have an entire arsenal of organic synthesis and inorganic synthesis [that could be harnessed] to tune the properties, with atom-like precision and virtually infinite tunability,” he adds.

Such materials might ultimately lend themselves to solar cells whose ability to capture different wavelengths of light could be matched to the solar spectrum, or improve supercapacitors used to store electrical energy.

 Last, but certainly not least, the new material could lend itself to use in basic research on the properties of matter, the creation of exotic materials such as magnetic topological insulators, or materials that exhibit quantum Hall effects.

“They’re in the same class of materials that have been predicted to have exotic new electronic states. These would be the first examples of these effects in materials made out of organic molecules. People are excited about that,” Dincă concludes.