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Hearing Motors That Rev Up Your Hearing

A recent study from the University of Utah, co-authored by the Chair of the Bioengineering Department, Dr. Richard Rabbitt, has demonstrated that the human ear actually has tiny, “flexoelectric motors” that rev up to better enable us to hear by amping up sounds mechanically rather than neurologically.

In other words, your ears have tiny motors to rev up your hearing – all the more reason to take care of your hearing today and tomorrow.

In an interview published by the University of Utah News Center, Professor Rabbit put it this way, “We are reporting discovery of a new nanoscale [really teeny] motor in the ear. The ear has a mechanical amplifier in it that uses electrical power to do mechanical amplification.”

The Utah News indicated that, “Previous research elsewhere indicated that hair cells within the cochlea of the inner ear can “dance” – elongate and contract – to help amplify sounds.

The new study shows sounds also may be amplified by the back-and-forth or “dancing” of stereocilia, which are the 50 to 300 hair-like nanotubes projecting from the top of each [cochlear] ear cell.”

William Brownell, a co-author of the study and professor of Otolaryngology at Baylor Collage of Medicine in Houston, whimsically described the discovery in terms we can all understand.

Brownell says the new study shows how the flexoelectric effect can account for the amplification of sound in the cochlea. Stereocilia essentially are membranes that have been rolled into tubes so the fact that a membrane can generate acoustic [mechanical] energy is novel. Imagine hearing a soap bubble talk.”

Flexoelectrical Energy

Katie Brenemen, a bioengineering doctoral student at the University of Utah and co-author of the study, stated that this energy may also be a part of digestion and memory formation. In other words, flexoelectrical energy may be a newly introduced source of power used throughout the body, not just at the end of the cochlear hair-like projections.

In a recent post by Ed Yeates of KKSL newsradio Professor Rabbitt was quoted as saying, “What we are reporting here is a new motor that really hasn’t been understood in the past. It’s the stereocilia, the little tubes on the top of the cell.” Inside the inner ear, the little dancing hair-like tubes actually act like electric motors.” [that amplify sound before being sent to the brain where it will be further processed.]

Any discovery in how we hear and process sound offers hope to those with hearing loss.

Vroom. Vroom. Your ears have motors to help you hear better, more clearly and keenly.

But damage to the hair like projections that wave back and forth in the cochlear fluid is irreversible.

So even though you may have millions of tiny amps boosting sound before transmission to the brain, these mechanisms are still delicate. It’s important, whether you age 10 or 100 to protect the hearing you have.

To learn more about this topic visit:  Hearing motors in your Ears?  Fire up your Engines.

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