• picture
  • picture
  • picture
  • picture
Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Environmental Health Note/Now Hear This!

Air Date: Week of

Living on Earth’s Jennifer Chu reports on a new discovery that explains how we translate sound waves to the brain.


CURWOOD: Just ahead: a field guide to sprawl. First, this Note on Emerging Science from Jennifer Chu.


CHU: Now hear this!

For years, scientists have puzzled over how sound waves flow through the ear and transform into electrical impulses that can be interpreted by the brain. In other words, how is it we can translate thousands of unique air vibrations into distinguishable sounds, such as the words in this report and the music you hear in the background?

Researchers at the University of Virginia say they’ve taken the “mute” button off this mystery. In an article posted on the Internet edition of the journal Nature, the scientists report that they have identified a doughnut-shaped protein located at the tips of sensory hairs in the inner ear that’s key to our ability to hear.

In the absence of sound, this doughnut hole is closed. But when sound strikes the protein, the hole pops open and allows potassium and calcium ions to flood the cells of the sensory hairs. The ions carry a positive electrical charge which generates an electrical signal inside the cells. This signal is then relayed to the brain and interpreted as specific sounds. Researchers hope the discovery could lead to new therapies for certain types of deafness in the next ten years.

That’s this week’s Note on Emerging Science. I’m Jennifer Chu.

CURWOOD: And you’re listening to NPR’s Living on Earth.

ANNOUNCER: Support for NPR comes from NPR stations, and: Ford, maker of the Escape Hybrid, a full hybrid S-U-V able to run on electric power alone at certain speeds. For vehicles dot com back slash environment; The Noyce Foundation, dedicated to improving Math and Science instruction from kindergarten through grade 12; The Annenberg Fund for excellence in communications and education; and, The Kellogg Foundation, helping people help themselves by investing in individuals, their families, and their communities. On the web at w-k-k-f dot org. This is NPR -- National Public Radio.

[MUSIC: Ry Cooder “Cancion Mixteca” PARIS, TEXAS ORIGINAL MOTION PICTURE SOUNDTRACK (Warner Brothers – 1985)]



Living on Earth wants to hear from you!

Living on Earth
62 Calef Highway, Suite 212
Lee, NH 03861
Telephone: 617-287-4121
E-mail: comments@loe.org

Newsletter [Click here]

Donate to Living on Earth!
Living on Earth is an independent media program and relies entirely on contributions from listeners and institutions supporting public service. Please donate now to preserve an independent environmental voice.

Living on Earth offers a weekly delivery of the show's rundown to your mailbox. Sign up for our newsletter today!

Sailors For The Sea: Be the change you want to sea.

Creating positive outcomes for future generations.

Innovating to make the world a better, more sustainable place to live. Listen to the race to 9 billion

The Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment: Committed to protecting and improving the health of the global environment.

Contribute to Living on Earth and receive, as our gift to you, an archival print of one of Mark Seth Lender's extraordinary wildlife photographs. Follow the link to see Mark's current collection of photographs.

Buy a signed copy of Mark Seth Lender's book Smeagull the Seagull & support Living on Earth