You’ve probably experienced the ability to focus on a friend’s spoken words while in the middle of a crowded, noisy room. The ear is able to tune in on certain sounds primarily with two elements, we’ll think of them as the volume knob and antenna.

Similar to a radio, the volume knob controls the “volume” to your brain. If assistance is needed, a hearing aid boosts the frequencies. However, a hearing aid does nothing for the ear’s antenna, similar to how turning up the volume on a static radio channel doesn’t help you make out the words more clearly.

Where moving the antenna on a radio around may help you clarify a radio station, it’s not clear to researchers how to hone the ear’s antenna.

The answer of how to improve the ear’s antenna may be found deep in the cochlea, in the tectorial membrane. Researchers know that the tiny hairs inside the cochlea are what act as the volume knob. The tectorial membrane rests on the hair cells, but how it tunes into certain sounds and tunes out others still isn’t know.

Research continues on to find out how the ear’s antenna works. Once that is known, researchers may be able to design a better hearing aid, that helps with both the ear’s volume control and antenna.

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