Arizona State University (ASU) researchers are working on a project designed to help people with hearing loss hear clearer with a $200,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Connection One, an NSF industry-university cooperative research center based at ASU, is developing a microscale digital hearing aid that would closely mimic the way natural hearing organs work.

“Our goal is to understand how the biological system operates—for example, how the eardrum converts vibrations into electronic impulses—and then mimic that system with the seamless integration of a digital hearing device,” says Sayfe Kiaei, director of Connection One. “This type of research will enable us to come up with new materials and devices that could seamlessly integrate with biological systems. It could revolutionize the study of biomaterials and bioelectronics.”

Bertan Bakkaloglu and Junseok Chae, both electrical engineering assistant professors, join Kiaei, an electrical engineering professor, on the research team. Each has a dual role as a faculty member in the Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering at ASU and as a Connection One researcher.

The Connection One team is investigating new techniques for improving the performance and comfort of hearing aids by decreasing their size, increasing the sound quality, making the devices more flexible, and extending battery life.

The researchers hope to achieve such advancements by using micromachined MEMS (microelectromechanical systems) technologies. MEMS technology integrates mechanical elements, sensors, actuators, and electronics onto a thin and flexible synthetic membrane to place on a silicon chip. The microscale devices will integrate an entire electronic system¸—including microphone and speakers—onto a 1-mm-by-1-mm surface.

[SOURCE: Arizona State University, July 3, 2006]