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Monday, March 24, 2014

3D-Printed 'Bionic' Ear Can Hear Beyond Human Ability

Scientists at Princeton University have designed a bionic ear that can hear better than human ears. And get this: It was printed using an off-the-shelf 3D printer.

We've heard of 3D printers someday building human organs before, but what's noteworthy about this project is this printed ear intertwines embedded electronics. These Princeton researchers basically 3D-printed cells and nanoparticles, and then combined a small coil antenna with cartilage to create this "bionic" ear, according to the university.

The result was a fully-functional organ that can hear radio frequencies a million times higher than our human ears, lead researcher Michael McAlpine told Mashable.

"The way that our ear hears now is we pick up acoustic signals and then we convert those into electrical signals that go to our brain," said McAlpine, who is an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Princeton. "What this ear does is it has this electronic coil on it and it picks up electronic signals directly."

McAlpine said he and his research team basically wanted to ask the question of whether they could grow an organ in a petri dish, with the electronics intertwined into the organ as it grew. Their successful project used a $1,000 3D printer to print the cells with the electronics (see video below). The "ear" was then put in a dish so the cells could culture for 10 weeks into cartilage tissue.