Engineering students develop a super 'space stethoscope'

May 22, 2013 by Jason Major, Universe Today
Making medical diagnoses aboard Space Station can be a tricky business. Credit: NASA

Even though astronauts receive some general medical training in preparation for a stay aboard the ISS, most of them still aren't medical professionals by any means—and with the inherent difficulties of microgravity and the relatively noisy environment inside the Station, even a simple diagnostic task like listening to a heartbeat can be a challenge.

That's why at Johns Hopkins University have developed a special "out of this world" space designed to work well while in orbit… as well as down here on Earth.

Space is serene because no air means no sound. But inside the average spacecraft, with its whirring fans, humming computers and buzzing instruments, it can be as raucous as a party filled with laughing, talking people.

"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 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.

Engineering students develop a super 'space stethoscope'
Components for a space stethoscope. Credit: Will Kirk/homewoodphoto.jhu.edu

"Considering that during long , there is a pretty good chance an actual doctor won't be on board, we thought it was important that the stethoscope did its job well, even when an amateur was the one using it," Dennis said.

The device also includes many other performance-enhancing improvements, including low power consumption, rechargeable batteries, mechanical exclusion of ambient noise and a suction cup, so that it sticks firmly onto the patient's chest, says Cheng.

Though developed for NASA's use in outer space, this improved stethoscope could also be put to use here on Earth in combat situations, where is abundant, and in developing countries, where medical care conditions are a bit more primitive.

West also plans to use the device to record 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.

Explore further: Sounding out heart problems automatically

Related Stories

Sounding out heart problems automatically

July 11, 2008

Sounding the chest with a cold stethoscope is probably one of the most commonly used diagnostics in the medical room after peering down the back of the throat while the patient says, "Aaaah". But, research published in the ...

Study shows we trust the stethoscope

August 13, 2012

(Medical Xpress) -- A Curtin University study has shown doctors seeking to earn their clients’ trust while conducting e-consultations should wear a stethoscope and surround themselves with medical tools of the trade.

Mobile phones offer heart lifeline

September 16, 2011

Technology that turns low-cost mobile phones into sophisticated stethoscopes could save thousands of lives in poor countries.

iPods help docs improve stethoscope skills

March 26, 2007

Patients rely on their physicians to recognize signs of trouble, yet for common heart murmurs, that ability is only fair at best. Fortunately, the solution is simple: listening repeatedly. In fact, intensive repetition — ...

Recommended for you

Dwarf galaxies shed light on dark matter

January 23, 2017

The first sighting of clustered dwarf galaxies bolsters a leading theory about how big galaxies such as our Milky Way are formed, and how dark matter binds them, researchers said Monday.

One of the brightest distant galaxies known discovered

January 23, 2017

An international team led by researchers from the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (IAC) and the University of La Laguna (ULL) has discovered one of the brightest "non-active" galaxies in the early universe. Finding ...

Freeze-dried food and 1 bathroom: 6 simulate Mars in dome

January 20, 2017

Crammed into a dome with one bathroom, six scientists will spend eight months munching on mostly freeze-dried foods—with a rare treat of Spam—and have only their small sleeping quarters to retreat to for solace.

Image: Wavemaker moon Daphnis

January 20, 2017

The wavemaker moon, Daphnis, is featured in this view, taken as NASA's Cassini spacecraft made one of its ring-grazing passes over the outer edges of Saturn's rings on Jan. 16, 2017. This is the closest view of the small ...

Video: A colorful 'landing' on Pluto

January 20, 2017

What would it be like to actually land on Pluto? This movie was made from more than 100 images taken by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft over six weeks of approach and close flyby in the summer of 2015. The video offers a trip ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.