Clarkson University team receives grant for electrolarynx research to give a voice to those who can't speak
Tuesday, April 9, 2013 - 2:24 pm

Clarkson University student Janine Amell (front) and faculty researchers including and Mechanical and Aeronautical Engineering Professors Byron Erath, Laurel Kuxhaus and Kevin Fite have received a $5,000 grant to create a modified electrolarynx.

POTSDAM -- A team of Clarkson faculty and student researchers is developing a cost-effective way to give a voice to the voiceless.

Student Janine Amell and Professors Byron Erath, Laurel Kuxhaus and Kevin Fite have received a $5,000 grant from the Academic Success Program to Improve Retention and Education (ASPIRE) to create a modified electrolarynx.

For decades, people whose larynxes were removed due to cancer or other diseases have used the handheld device to simulate speech. When pressed against the neck, the vibrating electrolarynx serves as a substitute for the surgically removed vocal folds, acoustically exciting the vocal tract.

But the average electrolarynx typically costs between $500 and $700 and is too expensive for much of the global population, according to Erath, an assistant professor of mechanical and aeronautical engineering whose research focuses on the aerodynamics of speech. The team is trying to design a more reasonably priced alternative while also improving the sound quality and ease of use of the electrolarynx.

“To me, it comes down to trying to improve a person’s quality of life,” Erath said. “We’d like to keep the cost low enough that it would be distributed worldwide.”

“It’s a nice way to generate a little more support than would otherwise be available for a senior design project,” said Fite, an associate professor of mechanical and aeronautical engineering.

“This is a really unique opportunity for Janine to make a second generation prototype,” added Kuxhaus, Amell’s advisor and an assistant professor of mechanical and aeronautical engineering.

The project is also one of six finalists in the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) 2013 Undergraduate Design Project Competition in Rehabilitation and Assistive Devices. The team will present its research the 2013 ASME Summer Bioengineering Conference in Oregon in June.

Amell said the experience has been invaluable as she prepares for a career in biomedical engineering. She has seen first-hand how engineering can improve someone’s life; her father lost half of his leg in a 2007 motorcycle accident and a prosthetic device has since improved his mobility.

“It’s something exciting that it could go places,” Amell said of the research project.