Scientists at Princeton University have successfully created a printable “bionic” ear, combining a small coil antenna with cartilage using “off-the-shell” 3D-printing tools and nanoparticles.
According to lead researcher Michael McAlpine, there are usually “mechanical and thermal challenges” when combining electronics with biological materials. The key to overcoming these challenges, he says, lies in building “the biology up with the electronics synergistically and in a 3D interwoven format.” Create them together from the beginning, and do it in 3D.
This thinking has led to a bionic ear that not only acts as a “fully functional organ,” but also augments its capabilities. In this case, the bionic ear allows its user to hear beyond that of normal human ability.
“The finished ear consists of a coiled antenna inside a cartilage structure. Two wires lead from the base of the ear and wind around a helical “cochlea” – the part of the ear that senses sound – which can connect to electrodes. Although McAlpine cautions that further work and extensive testing would need to be done before the technology could be used on a patient, he said the ear in principle could be used to restore or enhance human hearing.
…electrical signals produced by the ear could be connected to a patient’s nerve endings, similar to a hearing aid. The current system receives radio waves, but he said the research team plans to incorporate other materials, such as pressure-sensitive electronic sensors, to enable the ear to register acoustic sounds.”
It wasn’t a simple process, though. Check out the official press release for the full details.