Engineering student’s ‘Chatterbox’ mask wins global design award

Finding a quiet space for Zoom calls or online presentations can prove to be a challenge when you’re sharing a dorm room or working from home with a house full of family members during a global pandemic. 

Sophomore mechanical engineering student Joshua Murray’s solution? Wear the silence. 

A team of international engineering students led by Murray designed a clear, portable, sound-proof mask that not only blocks out surrounding sound while working from home, but contains the speaker’s voice as well so as not to distract others. The design was one of three prize winners in a global student competition “Innovate for Sustainability challenge” organized by Dassault Systèmes, recognized as the most “Sustainable Company in the World.”

“This is a huge honor,” Campbell School of Engineering Dean Dr. Jenna Carpenter said. “Our innovative hands-on, project-based engineering curriculum at Campbell teaches students the entire design process during their freshman year, which is unusual. That gives our students like Joshua the skills to be competitive on a global scale and serve as leaders in innovation and design thinking.” 

Murray’s team included Kentaro Enokida and Takekazu Kitagishi from the University of Tokyo and Mariyam Arief, a United Arab Emirates student who attends McMaster University in Canada. The four met online last fall when they were grouped together for a similar competition sponsored by the Global Engineering Deans Council. Murray served as the team’s “defacto leader” in both events, and their mask won the Dassault Systèmes “Employees Prize,” voted on by employees across the company. 

“Our team had a unique situation,” Murray said. “We’d never met in person, and all of our work was done online from our respective home countries. Using the [3DEXPERIENCE] platform provided by Dassault Systèmes, we brought the team together around a common tool — a tool that allowed us to collect all available technical data and pass the required tests. The results were immediately available to everyone involved in real time.”

Murray and his team named their entry The Chatterbox, a 3D semi-elliptical “mask-type device” that catches and redirects the user’s sound waves into their microphone instead of allowing those waves to escape and “propagate into the room.” The mask is made from clear plastic in order to allow the user to be seen on video, and it’s held onto the user’s face with two plastic ear straps (much like COVID-19 masks). 

Murray said the idea for The Chatterbox was born from the pandemic and trying to solve problems people have working from home. 

“People can’t be in the same room as other people while working online,” he said. “I have a twin brother, and we shared a room at home. This was always a problem — I needed to study when he needed to study. We needed our own space. So we created a private sound-proof space.”

The mask serves a dual purpose during the pandemic for people forced to work around others, as it also doubles as a literal mask to prevent the spread of COVID-19. But even outside of the pandemic, which crowded offices with cubicles that offer little in the form of privacy, The Chatterbox can be useful tool for people who don’t want to be heard and don’t want to hear others. 

“We could be sitting next to each other, and you wouldn’t hear me,” Murray said. “Not only does it prevent your sound from escaping, it also amplifies it into your microphone so others online can hear you better.”

Murray became fascinated with machines and design at an early age. He fell in love with cars, planes and rockets and eventually developed a passion to one day create completely emission-free forms of transportation. In high school, he took part in an engineering design academy, and his senior project dealt with renewable energy research. He applied and was accepted into eight different engineering schools after high school and accepted a full-ride scholarship to Campbell in 2019, following in the footsteps of his parents, who are both Campbell graduates. 

“I knew it was a solid school, and I knew this was a great program,” he said. “I’d also read a book about [Campbell founder] J.A. Campbell and became impressed with his story, too. I have a lot of respect for the way he built this school and dedicated his life into forming it.” 

In addition to now being a global design award-winning engineer, Murray is also part of the Grand Challenge Scholars Program, which focuses on challenges for the 21st Century and engages students in a combination of curriculum and extra-curricular activities in areas such as business and entrepreneurship, multicultural awareness and social consciousness.

The 2020 Innovate for Sustainability Challenge is the second edition of a global competition giving university and high school students around the world the opportunity to explore, learn and use Dassault Systèmes solutions to tackle one of four selected United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, linked to different industries served by Dassault Systèmes. More challenges for students are coming at