Medgadget reports on an Australian ABC story describing a new bionic ear ... (Wait. Let me pause here. How cool is that. I'm actually using the word “bionic” in connection with something real. If only the 11-year-old Howard, who really, really wanted to BE Steve Austin, could see me now. Let me just repeat that last phrase. OK. Back in “news announcer voice”) ... a new bionic ear made with a piece of magic plastic called polypyrrole. The polymer conducts electricity and can host molecules called neurotrophins. Give that stuff a zap, and they could stimulate nerve cell growth.
Translation: A bionic ear (I think Steve Austin had the eye, and it was Lindsey Wagner who had the ear, right?) that can also help bring back your natural hearing. You can read more about nano-assembled polypyrrole here as an abstract for the upcoming Nano Science and Technology Institute conference in Annaheim this May. I'm told that NSTI is really the only nanotech trade show that’s worth attending. (Anybody with a travel budget want to send me there?)
Some grownups also call bionic ears “cochlear implants” (but the 11-year-old me could not have said THAT with a straight face). Scientific American Frontiers on PBS recently devoted part of a show to the subject. The show featured a young girl hearing for the very first time using her cochlear impant. It was an incredible scene. The series is hosted by Alan Alda, who has graduated from smart-aleck surgeon Hawkeye Pierce to smart-aleck physicist Richard Feynman.