Hearing loss has many causes including genetic disorders, extended exposure to dangerously loud sounds and normal aging. Hearing aids can’t repair the damage regardless of the cause. Taking a different approach that uses biology and technology, researchers at Princeton are developing a bionic ear that contains biological and electronic materials, including bovine or cow cells, silicone, and silver nanoparticles. The structure of cartilage cells from cows is similar to that of human cells, and bovine cells are much easier to obtain (Stromberg, 2013).
Using CAD software and a 3D printer, the scientists construct a virtual representation of the ear and use cow cells, silicone, and nanoparticles as ‘ink’ to print the ear (Chemical & Engineering News, 2013).
The overall shape of the bionic ear is very close to that of a human ear, but it’s different on the inside. The bionic ear has a ‘coil receiver’ that senses electromagnetic frequencies. This receiver is connected to a spring-like structure resembling a cochlea. Wires wound around the cochlea connect to electrodes, and the electrical signals can be directly placed on a person’s auditory nerve (Sullivan, 2013). The bionic ear can detect electromagnetic frequencies humans can normally sense as well as frequencies even beyond what we’re capable of hearing.
I never would have imagined how biology and technology are so interconnected, but that’s the beauty of the bionic ear. These researchers have proven that combining cells and soft tissue with hard electronics is possible.In Brief:
- The bionic ear is composed of cartilage cells from cows, silicone, and silver nanoparticles.
- Created using 3D printing, the bionic ear resembles a human ear but incorporates additional structures that allow it to “hear.”
- While the creation of the bionic ear was meant to prove that electronics could easily be interconnected with biological material, the ear could serve as a future prosthetic for enhancing hearing.
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