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CORY DORFMAN: Can you please lower it a little?
MILES O'BRIEN: Twelve-year-old Cory...
JOANIE DORFMAN: A little down. That's good.
MILES O'BRIEN: ...and his twin sister Joanie
were born deaf but they've been hearing nearly all their lives.
CORY DORFMAN: It's called a cochlear implant and it helps me
hear. As Helen Keller said, "Blindness separates us from
things but deafness separates us from people."
MILES O'BRIEN: Today they're getting a tune-up.
SUSIE TROTOCHAUD: When they first heard and they were just
babies, their reaction, it was just really wonderful.
JOANIE DORFMAN: So have you heard about that new movie
coming out, "Teen Beach Movie?"
CORY DORFMAN: Oh yeah.
MILES O'BRIEN: As life changing as Cochlear Implants has been
for them, the devices are still far from perfect.
PAMELA BHATTI: The sound is muffled, dampened, they don't
get the same span of sound as we normally would. So how's the
simulation work going?
MILES O'BRIEN: With support from the National Science
Foundation, biomedical engineer, Pamela Bhatti and her team at
Georgia Tech are working to improve the sound quality
of these implants.
CORY DORFMAN: I think that might be a little high.
MILES O'BRIEN: A cochlear implant is basically a small
sound system. A microphone worn behind the ear picks up sounds
that are sent wirelessly to an implant inserted in the cochlea,
deep inside the ear.
JOANIE DORFMAN: The cochlea doesn't work so the computer
really kind of sends signals to the brain which is what the
cochlea is supposed to do.
MILES O'BRIEN: More specifically, the implant does
what tiny hairs in the cochlea should be doing, converting
sound waves into electrical signals that the brain can
understand. Bhatti and her team have found a way to improve the
audio quality of cochlear implants by building in more
electrodes which provide a wider range of frequencies. Instead of
bundling electrodes by hand, they've developed thin filma
rays of microfabricated electrodes, borrowing
technologies used to manufacture integrated circuits. Their new
design also makes it easier to insert.
PAMELA BHATTI: And our cable is appreciably thinner. You also
have the ability to potentially reduce the cost.
MILES O'BRIEN: And Bhatti says the cochlear implant they're
developing is still being tested. It is designed to cover
a broader spectrum to treat the type of low frequency hearing
loss that many, especially the rock and roll baby boomers, are
experiencing from over exposure to loud noises. So better,
smaller implants for more realistic sound quality. For
those who depend on this kind of technology for hearing,
it's music to their ears.
CORY DORFMAN: Bellissimo.
MILES O'BRIEN: For Science Nation, I'm Miles O'Brien.