What do Superman, Wolverine, Archangel, Daredevil, Supergirl, Sonar and Loki have in common (besides the fact that they're all super heroes)? They all possess some manner of super hearing. According to Wired, a lab out of Princeton University is working on bionic nanomaterials that could make super hearing and other powers a reality.
The research team is led by Michael McAlpine, a chemistry Ph.D. who, as he told Wired, "was corrupted to being more of an engineer than a scientist.” The latest creation to come out of McAlpine's lab is a prototype of an artificial ear with electronics embedded inside it. One end of the synthetic ear is designed to be connected directly to the cochlea, the spiralled chamber in the inner ear which conducts sound. Indeed, it functions a lot like a cochlear implant, which allows some previously deaf people to hear for the first time — although McAlpine is interested in not only mitigating hearing loss but also pushing beyond normal human abilities.
“The ear was a great proof of concept for combining biological and electrical,” McAlpine told Wired. “What I’m most excited about is using these 3D printers, interwoven with advances in material science, and adding biology to them—not just taking the ear to the next level.”
The synthetic ear could be tuned to pick up frequencies beyond the normal human range of 20–20,000 Hz, and responds to radio frequencies as well.
Another invention out of McAlpine's lab: smart teeth. By "tatooing" graphene, a crystalline form of carbon, onto tooth emamel, McAlpine created a nanosensor capable of detecting bacteria cells. His team is also working on nano-scale power generators that could harvest energy from the motion of internal organs to power implanted devices.
“It will just be considered normal that you have electronics embedded in your body,” he told Wired. “You won’t think it's weird that a door will just open up as you walk towards it. We will become cyborgs and it will be seen as just a normal thing.”