Quantcast
Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
In this Thursday, June 27, 2013 photo, Princeton University graduate student Manu Mannoor holds a bionic ear as another is printed on a 3-D printer in Princeton, N.J. Mannoor is one of the scientists at Princeton University who have created an ear with an off-the-shelf 3-D printer that can "hear" radio frequencies far beyond the range of normal human capability. The researchers used 3-D printing of cells and nanoparticles followed by cell culture to combine a small coil antenna with cartilage, creating what they term a bionic ear. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
Princeton researchers create ‘bionic ear’
First Published Jul 03 2013 07:06 pm • Last Updated Jul 03 2013 07:06 pm

Princeton, N.J. • With a 3-D printer, a petri dish and some cells from a cow, Princeton University researchers are growing synthetic ears that can receive — and transmit — sound.

The scientists send bovine cells mixed in a liquid gel through the printer, followed by tiny particles of silver. The printer is programmed to shape the material into a "bionic ear," and forms the silver particles into a coiled antenna. Like any antenna, this one can pick up radio signals that the ear will interpret as sound.

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

The 3-D ear is not designed to replace a human one, though; the research is meant to explore a new method of combining electronics with biological material.

"What we really did here was actually more of a proof of concept of the capabilities of 3-D printing," said Michael McAlpine, the professor who led the project. "Because most people use 3-D printing to print passive objects — things like figurines and jewelry."

After it’s printed, the 3-D ear is soft and translucent. It is cultivated for 10 weeks, letting the cells multiply, creating a flesh color and forming hardened tissue around the antenna.

Manu Mannoor, a graduate student who worked with McAlpine on the project, held up a petri dish in a lab at Princeton last week to show how the process works. The dish was filled with liquid and a partly cultivated ear, and Mannoor said the cells were secreting a matrix, the space between cells that exists in organisms.

"They make their own living space," Mannoor said.

McAlpine and his team demonstrated the antenna’s ability to pick up radio signals by attaching electrodes onto the backs of the ears in the printing process. When they broadcast a recording of Beethoven’s "Fur Elise" to a pair of fully cultivated ears, the electrodes transmitted the signal along wires to a set of speakers, and the music flowed out clear and without interference.

Although the new research is just one iteration in the field of cybernetics — an area that looks at combining biology with technology — McAlpine said the research could lead to synthetic replacements for actual human functions, and to a sort of electronic sixth sense.

"As the world becomes a more digital and electronic place, I think ultimately we’re going to care less about our traditional five senses," he said. "And we’re going to want these new senses to give us direct electronic communication with our cellphones and our laptop devices."


story continues below
story continues below



Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment


About Reader Comments


Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Videos
Jobs
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Access your e-Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.