Thursday, 04 Jul, 2013 Science
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Researchers Create Bionic Ear Using 3-D Printer

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Using a 3-D printer, a petri dish and several cells from a cow, a team of researchers from the United States managed to grow artificial ears that are able to receive and transmit sound.

A group of scientists from Princeton University sent cow cells blended in a liquid gel through a 3-D printer, in which they also added small particles of silver.

It would be interesting to note that the researchers' printer has been programmed to create the shape of a "bionic ear" from the introduced material. It also makes a coiled antenna using the silver particles. This antenna, like any other, is able to catch radio signals that the ear will understand as sound.

However, the 3-D ear cannot replace a real human ear. The study was launched with the goal of exploring a new way of combining electronics and biological material. The actual aim was to demonstrate that 3-D printers can be used to create much more than just plain objects like figurines and jewelry.

As soon as the ear is printed, it is soft and transparent. To make the ear the 3-D printer needs 10 weeks, the time required for the cells to multiply and for the formation of flesh color and hardened tissue located around the antenna.

Together with his team Mr McAlpine showed how the antenna can collect radio signals. Researchers connected electrodes onto the backs of the ears during the printing process.

Then they broadcasted Beethoven's "Fur Elise" to a couple of 3-D printed ears, and when they did that the electrodes transmitted the signal along wires to speakers, and the produced music was clear and without nosiness.

According to McAlpine, their study could lead to further development of synthetic replacements for real human functions, and to a type of electronic sixth sense.

"…we're going to want these new senses to give us direct electronic communication with our cellphones and our laptop devices," he mentioned.

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