How can what engineers learn from how barn owls pinpoint the location of the faintest sounds apply to their development of nanotechnologies capable of doing even better? In episode 61, we’re joined by Saptarshi Das, a nano-engineer from Penn State University, who talks with us about his open-access article “A biomimetic 2D transistor for audiomorphic computing,” co-authored with Sarbashis Das and Akhil Dodda, and published on August 1, 2019 in the open-access journal Nature Communications.



Websites and other resources

    • (a) Optical image of Saptarshi’s device, and (b) zoomed in scanning electron microscope (SEM) image (false colored) of a biomimetic device for imitating the neural computational map inside the auditory cortex of barn owl [from the article]:

    • (a) Schematic of the biomimetic device, where VSG1 and VSG1 indicates the split-gate voltage, VDS the drain bias voltage, IDS the source to drain current, and VBG the back-gate bias [from the article]:

Media and Press

Penn State | Futurity | Science Daily | Innovation Toronto | AAAS EurekAlert


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Hosts / Producers

Ryan Watkins & Doug Leigh

How to Cite

Watkins, R., Leigh, D., & Das, S.. (2019, Oct. 29). Parsing Science – Hearing better than a barn owl. figshare.


What’s The Angle? by Shane Ivers

Jhirijhiri (binaural recording) by Subhashish Panigrahi [CC BY-SA 4.0 (]


Saptarshi Das: that’s a fascinating aspect: that you can learn from nature which has already, you know, fine-tuned these kind of neurobiological devices for the survival of these animals.

Ryan Watkins: This is Parsing Science the unpublished stories behind the world’s most compelling science as told by the researchers themselves. I’m Ryan Watkins.

Doug Leigh: And I’m Doug Leigh. Today, in episode 61 of Parsing Science, we’re joined by Saptarshi Das from Penn State University. He’ll discuss his research into engineering a device for determining a sounds location that’s inspired by the way barn owls precisely determine where sound is coming from to track their prey in the dark … And his device is so small it exists only in two, rather than three, dimensions. Here’s Saptarshi Das.

Das: Hi, this is Saptarshi Das. And I was actually born in India, in a town called Kolkata. Most of my studies in high school and under graduation took place in Kolkata. I graduated with a degree in electronics and telecommunication engineering from Jodhpur University. And after that I directly came to the United States to pursue my doctoral degree. I joined Purdue University, the Electrical and Computer Science Department. And there I was mostly working on micro and nano-electronics, working with new materials, novel devices, and trying to resolve some of the critical issues that we face with energy efficiency of electronic devices. I finished my PhD degree in 2013 from Purdue, and after that I moved to Argonne National Lab for a postdoctoral study. I joined Penn State in 2016 as an assistant professor in the Department of Engineering Science and Mechanics. And it’s already been like three and a half years now. In Penn State we are currently working on novel devices for the next generation of computing, because there are some severe limitations that we are currently facing. And we [are] using new materials – mostly the two-dimensional materials – and devices based on them to resolve those issues.

Watkins: Sometimes the best solutions to problems aren’t always the most complex, nor are the best answers necessarily new ones. And that evolution of the natural world provides millennia of evolutionary trial and error experiments from which we can learn. Saptarshi’s research lab focuses on developing nanodevices which often seek solutions to human challenges by imitating processes found in nature. We started our conversation by asking Saptarshi how he got interested in this design philosophy, called biomimicry.

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