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FEATURE ARTICLE

The Design and Function of Cochlear Implants

Fusing medicine, neural science and engineering, these devices transform human speech into an electrical code that deafened ears can understand

Michael Dorman, Blake Wilson

Figure 1. The cochlea converts sound waves...Click to Enlarge Image

Ludwig van Beethoven was only 28 when he started to lose his hearing. Although he went on to compose some of his most important music, he described himself as alone, despairing, miserable. Today, Beethoven might have been fitted with a cochlear implant—a device that converts sound waves into electrical pulses that directly stimulate nerves in the ear. Dorman and Wilson explain how the implants perform this conversion, how the information travels to the brain and how ongoing research in this field integrates findings from the study of speech, nerve–cell biophysics, microelectronics and molecular biology.


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