Princeton’s Bionic Ear

By Nishat Khan

The world has already been blown away by the introduction of 3-D printers, and scientists at Princeton University are about to impress the world once again. Using 3-D printing tools, researchers have created a bionic ear that can “hear” frequencies that most humans can’t. According to officials at Princeton, the researchers’ aspire to “explore an efficient and versatile method of merging electronics with tissue.”

Researchers bought a 3-D printer off of the Internet and printed cells and nanoparticles, then combined a coil antenna with cartilage and created the bionic ear. The antenna can pick up radio signals, hence giving it the ability to “hear.”

Princeton Bionic Ear

The lead researcher is Michael McAlpine, an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Princeton, who said there were mechanical and thermal challenges with interfacing electronic and biological materials. According to Princeton University, this is the group’s first attempt at creating a fully functional organ that goes beyond human capabilities.

Usually, biological tissue and electronics do not go well together, but Princeton’s research is definitely going to change that. The printing takes about four hours,  where the ear is put in what MIT Technology Review refers to as a “nutrient-rich broth.” This enables the cells to grow and produce collagen and replace the surrounding broth with a cartilaginous substance.

Aside from McAlpine, the research team consists of Manu Manoor, David Gracias, Naveen Verma, Winston Soboyejo, Yong Lin Kong, Karen Malatesta, Ziwen Jiang, and Teena James.

Though the bionic ear has amazing capacities, it can’t hear sound waves, and can’t replace a human ear. However, with all the advancements in the technological and biological world, an artificial ear that works similar to an actual human ear seems to be well within scientists’ reach.

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