The battery-free device acts as an artificial cochlea


Researchers at Huazhong University of Science and Technology in China created a battery-free device that could pave the way for an artificial cochlea to help with hearing loss. The cochlea, a component of the inner ear, converts sound waves into electrical impulses and the new device performs a similar function. The device consists of barium titanate nanoparticles within a conductive polymer to form a piezo-triboelectric material that generates an electrical signal when it moves and is moved by sound waves.

For many people with hearing problems, the problem may lie in the damage to the small hairs of the cochlea that help turn sound waves into an electrical signal that the brain can recognize and interpret. This damage is usually irreversible and a device that can be inserted or implanted in the ear may be the best option to restore the ear. This situation has inspired researchers to try to develop an artificial cochlea, but these devices currently require an external power supply, such as a battery, meaning they may be bulky or in need of replacement.

To address this, these Chinese researchers have developed a self-powered piezo-triboelectric device that can pave the way for the artificial cochleae of the future. The technology consists of silicon dioxide-coated barium titanate nanoparticles, which the researchers mixed into a conductive polymer. They then processed the material so that it had a sponge-like consistency, which allowed the nanoparticles to move when sound waves hit the material, resulting in an electric charge.

The idea is that as sound waves strike the device in the ear, it will generate a corresponding electrical charge that can be interpreted by the brain. To make the implant as useful as possible, the researchers designed it so that it could produce a maximum electrical signal at 170 hertz, which is within the range of an adult’s voice.

So far, the team tested the device inside a model ear by playing a piece of music and then converting the corresponding electrical signal generated by the device into a new music file. They report that the piece of music was recognizable when playing the new music file, suggesting that the device accurately converted the sounds into an electrical signal.

More development will be needed before the technology is good enough to be used as an artificial cochlea, but the way forward is a little clearer.

Study a ACS Nano: Acoustic core and shell resonance collector for the application of artificial cochlea based on the piezo-triboelectric effect

Via: American Chemical Society

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