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NASA's work on nanotube hearing aids for outer space (BW)

NASA's work on nanotube hearing aids for outer space (BW)

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Posted by HHIssues on December 11, 2000 at 08:50:09:

From 12/18/2000 Business Week on your newstands now

All the Better to Hear You with, My Dear

Hearing aids and acoustic sensors modeled on biological ears--complete with artificial ear hairs, or stereocilia--may be within reach. Thanks to nanotechnology, manmade devices could soon match--then surpass--the sensitivity of Nature's keenest ears.

On Dec. 5, at the annual meeting of the Acoustical Society of America in Newport Beach, Calif., an international team led by researchers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) was scheduled to report that carbon nanotubes could be the key to revolutionary advances in acoustic technology. Nanotubes are rod-shaped bundles of carbon atoms only a few billionths of a meter in diameter--even smaller than the tiny hairs in human ears.

Smallness is critical to sensitivity, notes JPL researcher Flavio Noca. The gentle sound waves of, say, rustling leaves cause the ear's stereocilia to sway back and forth by less than a nanometer. Large rods can't mimic such subtle movements. But with nanotubes, the team envisions a device that can catch sounds of the forest--and more. They describe a supersensitive ''nanostethoscope'' that could pick up the metabolic sounds of individual cells--perhaps telling healthy cells from cancerous ones. And future robots sent by NASA to explore distant planets could listen for signs of life, no matter how tiny.

** HHIssues **


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