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Hearing and the Ear

Illustrates the structure of the ear and how it allows us to perceive sound.

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Battery in Your Ear

Battery in Your Ear


Credit: Wmpearl
Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:'Model_of_the_Labyrinth_of_the_Inner_Ear'_and_'Model_of_the_Left_Temporal_Bone'_by_William_Rush.JPG
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

This photo shows an 1808 wooden sculpture. It’s a model of the inner ear nestled in a bone of the skull. It shows a part of the ear that has an amazing property: it can work like a tiny battery!

Amazing but True!

  • The inner ear of mammals, including humans, contains a natural battery. In hearing, this natural battery changes vibrations caused by sound waves into electrical signals. The signals then travel to the brain, which interprets them as sounds.
  • Credit: Waifer X
    Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/waiferx/3622662536/
    License: CC BY-NC 3.0

    People with hearing issues can use cochlear implants to improve their hearing [Figure2]

  • The natural battery inside the inner ear is needed for normal hearing. Could it have other uses as well? Watch this video to learn how this natural battery works and other ways it might be used:


Explore More

Learn more about the inner ear battery at the link below. Then answer the questions that follow.

  1. Describe the inner ear structure called the cochlea.
  2. What is potential difference, or voltage? How does the cochlea create potential difference?
  3. Compare and contrast the inner ear battery with a chemical cell.
  4. What role does potential difference in the cochlea play in hearing?
  5. For what other purposes might the inner ear battery be used?
  6. What advantages would the inner ear battery have over an artificial battery for these purposes?

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