Update 9/19/13 1:37 pm: Check out the video below

Michael McApline, who earned his PhD from Harvard in 2006, has constructed an ear. A synthetic, 3D-printed human ear. In fact, it works better than your ears. McAlpine developed this super-human marvel with his team at Princeton, where he is an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering.

The ear was created by depositing live cells and conductive silver in layers. What began as an exploration of material properties quickly became a product that could help millions of people. What’s more is that the prosthetic could actually restore hearing to the deaf and then go beyond the capabilities of a normal human ear.

Basically, the way the auditory system works, is that a sound wave enters the ear, passes through the ear drum and is converted from sound waves into fluid waves in the cochlea. The fluid wave vibrates across the basilar membrane to the Organ of Corti which has tiny hairs that convert the fluid waves into electrical signals that are picked up by neurons, sending data to the brain.

“What we made was a coil that receives electromagnetic signals and formed a direct connection with your brain,” McAlpine told WIRED. The synthetic ear bypasses most of the natural process of interpreting sound waves by sending electrical signals directly from its coils to the brain.

The crazy part, aside from restoring a damaged auditory system, is that the synthetic coils can extend beyond the capabilities of puny human ears and potentially allow us to hear outside the normal spectrum (20-20,000 hz). McAlpine’s device could allow humans to hear what dolphins or bats hear. Remember all those screens Batman uses to find the Joker in The Dark Knight (above)? Such a machine has entered the realm of possibility.

If bio-mechnical enhancements were to catch on, the possibilities are endless. McAlpine believes that we are headed in that direction.

“It will just be considered normal that you have electronics embedded in your body,” he told WIRED. “You won’t think it’s weird that a door will just open up as you walk towards it. We will become cyborgs and it will be seen as just a normal thing.”


And speaking of 3D printed ears, check this out.