Innovative Heart Monitoring Inspired by Sea Turtles

A team of researchers from the North University of China created an array of highly sensitive heart-monitoring technologies that are low cost and do not require medical training in order to monitor heart health.

In seeking to create this new technology, Dr. Junbin Zang’s team turned to the unique auditory anatomy of sea turtles. Rather than absorbing sound through ears, sea turtles absorb sound through a layer of skin and fat that covers their auditory system. The sound strikes a small bone and is then sent to the brain via electrical signals for it to process and interpret. The sound-absorbing bone has a unique T-shaped design, enabling sea turtles to pick up on low-frequency signals in the 300- to 400-hertz range.

“Heart sounds are also low-frequency signals, so the low-frequency characteristics of the sea turtle’s ear have provided us with great inspiration,” Zang stated.

The team created a MEMS cantilever beam sensor – a miniature device with a beam built in similar to a diving board- that can sense physical quantities, such as pressure. Vibrations from the sound cause “deformations in its beam, and the fluctuations in the voltage resistance are then translated into electrical signals” at low-vibration frequencies. Results from tests showed “excellent vibration characteristics,” with a higher vibration sensitivity than other devices currently available on the market.

They are currently working on refining the technology; for example, the sensor tends to pick up on background noise. Zang’s team believes that these new monitors could aid specialists – as well as individuals – in detecting irregularities in advance in both clinical and home settings.