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

Science Note/Micro-Ear

Air Date: Week of

Microscopes let researchers look at bacteria. Now a new device will let them listen to these organisms as well. Living on EarthÂ’s Bridget Macdonald reports on a micro-ear for hearing sounds on a cellular level.


CURWOOD: Just ahead – how to spot the birds – when you can’t see them. But first this note on emerging science from Bridget Macdonald.


MACDONALD: Stethoscopes let doctors hear inside the human body. Now researchers have found a way to tune into individual cells. Researchers in the United Kingdom are developing a micro-ear device that will let them listen to cells by using laser technology. Scientists surround a cell with a ring of laser beams, each with tiny glass or plastic beads suspended inside. When the cell makes a noise, the beads wobble – causing vibrations that are converted into sound waves. It’s the same way that acoustic energy becomes an audio signal inside a microphone. When the beads vibrate, a high-speed camera records their movement, so scientists can figure exactly where the sound is coming from. Researchers think the micro-ear could be used to eavesdrop on parasites and bacteria, like E. Coli. By understanding noises that come from an organism’s smallest moving parts, scientists hope to develop medicine that can stop them in their tracks. Even for microbiologists, it pays to be a good listener. That’s this week’s note on emerging science. I’m Bridget Macdonald.



National Institute for Medical Research

University of Glasgow, Bioelectronics

University of Oxford, Bionanotechnology


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