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Surprising Science

Harvesting Battery Power From The Inner Ear

A study published today describes how scientists were able to power a transmitter using the electrochemical potential found in a guinea pig’s cochlea.

Article written by guest writer Kecia Lynn

What’s the Latest Development?

Today’s Nature Biotechnology contains a study that describes the process involved in tapping electrochemical energy from within a guinea pig’s cochlea, or inner ear, and using it to power a wireless transmitter. A chip, small enough to fit inside a human ear and outfitted with power-conversion circuits, was connected to the anesthetized guinea pig’s inner ear by electrodes. When jump-started with a burst of radio waves, the device extracted one nanowatt of power, allowing transmission of energy measurements every 40-360 seconds for up to five hours. Furthermore, the guinea pig’s hearing was not disrupted.

What’s the Big Idea?

Scientists have long known that the mammalian inner ear was capable of producing a small amount of electric energy, but until now there was no safe way to capture it. According to the paper’s authors, who represent MIT, Harvard, and the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, the ability to recharge implantable electronics, such as hearing aids, using the body’s own energy may extend the life of the implant and possibly allow it to operate autonomously.

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