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Turning Hearing Loss Into Music

Saturday, June 30, 2018 9:43:05 AM Australia/Melbourne

Turning Hearing Loss Into MusicThat blog post title is a little bit confusing, isn’t it? After all, hearing loss creates a challenge to hearing music, hearing loss can even be caused by music. But neuroscientist James Hudspeth begs to differ. He’s spent the last 50 years studying the inner ear and was recognized just last week by the Norwegian Academy of Science. Here at Hearlink, we love to recognize the pioneers and the trailblazers who are changing the face and the future of hearing loss prevention. The different scientific advances and the new experts in the field are bringing awareness to the issue and finding innovative new solutions. James Hudspeth is one such expert, so we’re sharing his unique take on the inner ear.

 

Given that he’s spent 50 years studying the inner ear, he has an enhanced appreciation for just how intricate the anatomy is. He took this knowledge and flipped it on its head with a new perspective which he shared in an interview with Scientific American- “I think we as scientists tend to underemphasize the aesthetic aspect of science,” he says. “Yes, science is the disinterested investigation into the nature of things. But it is more like art than not. It’s something that one does for the beauty of it, and in the hope of understanding what has heretofore been hidden. Here’s something incredibly beautiful, like the inner ear, performing a really remarkable function. How can that be? How does it do it?”

 

He credits this perspective to Hermann von Hemholtz, a German scientist from the 19th century. Both Hemholtz and Hudspeth see the cochlea as an inverse piano. With a piano, each string can be seen as a single tone. When these tones work together, they create beautiful music. The ear does the same thing but in reverse. The ear has 16,000 hair cells lined along the spiral cochlea that respond to different frequencies. When one isn’t performing optimally, your hearing suffers.

 

Transduction is a popular term in Hudspeth’s work. Transduction is looking at the vibrations in the air and converting them into signals which are electric that the brain can then interpret in different ways. Hudspeth credits transduction as the focus of the first 20 years of his career. The second focused on amplification. His work determined that the ear and the systems connected aren’t passive transducers. He looked at how sounds are amplified and to what volumes. Frequencies that are a tenth of a percent apart can now be distinguished. He says that if you compare, two keys on any given piano are also six percent apart. This all ties back to his metaphor looking at the ear as an inverse piano.

 

It’s a unique take, isn’t it? It’s refreshing to see the merge of art and science as we look at how interesting and complex your ears are. Questions? Comments? Let the team at Hearlink know. We’d love to hear from you and continue the conversation about the prevention of hearing loss.


*Image Credit: The Rockefeller University

Posted in Industry News By

Hearlink Admin