A group of mechanical engineering students at Johns Hopkins University have developed a stethoscope that can be used inside a noisy spacecraft, making it easier for medics on board to assess the health of astronauts who are sent on long space missions. Current designs have difficulty picking up clear and distinct sounds, such as that of an astronaut’s heartbeat or wheezing lungs.
From a university release:
“Imagine trying to get a clear stethoscope signal in an environment like that, where the ambient noise contaminates the faint heart signal. That is the problem we set out to solve,” said Elyse Edwards, a senior from Issaquah, Wash., who teamed up on the project with fellow seniors Noah Dennis, a senior from New York City, and Shin Shin Cheng, from Sibu, Sarawak, Malaysia.
The students worked under the guidance of James West, a Johns Hopkins research professor in electrical and computer engineering and co-inventor of the electret microphone used in telephones and in almost 90 percent of the more than two billion microphones produced today.
Together, they developed a stethoscope that uses both electronic and mechanical strategies to help the device’s internal microphone pick up sounds that are clear and discernible – even in the noisy spacecraft, and even when the device is not placed perfectly correctly on the astronaut’s body.
The release points out potential uses for the stethoscope outside of outer space, such as in combat situations. And it notes that West plans to use the device for “recording infants’ heart and lung sounds in developing countries as part of a project that will attempt to develop a stethoscope that knows how to identify the typical wheezing and crackling breath sounds associated with common diseases.”