Scientists at Princeton University have used ordinary 3D printers to create a "bionic ear" that possesses the ability to hear frequencies well outside those perceived by human hearing.
The team used 3D printing technology to merge hydrogel and calf cells with silver nanoparticles that act as an antenna. Unlike most attempts to combine advances in technology with human anatomy, this is not an implant. The calf cells would grow into cartilage around the antenna.
The researchers work was documented in an article in the scholarly journal Nano Letters.
"In general, there are mechanical and thermal challenges with interfacing electronic materials with biological materials," said lead researcher Michael McAlpine, an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Princeton.
Basically, what McAlpine is saying is that they used to run into trouble when creating body parts that were fused with tech. Manu Mannoor, the paper's lead author, said that additive manufacturing allows scientists to hypothesize new ways of combining electronics with human tissue to create bionic organs (a concept familiar to laymen and science fiction fans as the makings of a cyborg).
"Previously, researchers have suggested some strategies to tailor the electronics so that this merger is less awkward," McAlpine said. "That typically happens between a 2D sheet of electronics and a surface of the tissue. However, our work suggests a new approach – to build and grow the biology up with the electronics synergistically in a 3D interwoven format."
While other scientists have touted the ability to use 3D printing to create living tissue, this is the first time researchers have used the technology to combine electronics and tissue. Unless you count the 1970s hit TV show, The Six Million Dollar Man.