FoundHER – Fermata Reeds
“As chemistry, engineering, and music students we envisioned working in laboratories, building circuits and spaceships at NASA, or playing in concert halls. We never imagined those spaces, so strict to their respective disciplines, mixing and leading to a startup company where science, music, and entrepreneurship meet. At UT Austin and through KS WELI, we’ve discovered that science, music, and entrepreneurship are not mutually exclusive. UT and KS WELI have given us the opportunity to explore our multifaceted passions and produce a product that will make music more accessible to all. Thank you, UT and KS WELI, without you none of this would be possible!”
– Lettie Smith (Ph.D Expected 2025), Brigit Fitzgerald (DMA Expected 2024), Lizette Wong (May 2024), Zoelle Wong (May 2022)
Zoelle Wong, Lizette Wong, Lettie Smith, & Brigit Fitzgerald
Introducing Fermata Reeds, a materials company dedicated to producing reeds that are more economically accessible and ecologically friendly.
Fermata Reeds was born from a conversation between Dean Sharon Wood and Scott Evans, director of Texas Inventionworks, at UT Austin. In this conversation, Dean Wood, who is also a bassoonist, mentioned the main drawback of playing her instrument—the reed, the mouthpiece of the instrument that enables it to make music. Scott Evans brought this problem to Lizette Wong’s attention. Lizette, an engineering and music student, along with her sister and fellow engineer, Zoelle Wong, then began to tackle this problem.
They partnered with Brigit Fitzgerald, a bassoonist pursuing her DMA at UT, to understand the problems with current bassoon reeds and to begin to brainstorm possible ways of overcoming them. One main problem with these reeds is their poor durability, often only lasting a month, resulting in recurring costs that make the instrument inaccessible to many students.
The team first tried 3D-printing reeds, however, the resulting reeds were incapable of making a sound, the material used in 3D-printing was just too thick to induce vibrations. They then sought the advice of engineering faculty on campus and, after meeting with Dr. Lynd in the chemical engineering department, found another possible solution: a biocomposite reed made of both wood and plastic.
In order to perform the chemical processes to produce these reeds, the fourth and final member of Fermata Reeds, Lettie Smith, a chemistry graduate student, was added to the team. The first Fermata Reed was completed in Summer 2021, and, unlike its 3D-counterpart, it made music!