Information for school students

Adopt a school program 

The Bionics Institute is involved in the Adopt a School program, available for Secondary schools.

The aim of this program is to build links between businesses, students, teachers and the broader community through activities, which increase knowledge and opportunities for careers and further education.

For more information, contact us.

Fact Sheets

Medical bionics

Medical bionics aims to replace and/or enhance impaired sensory or other functions using electronic devices that interface with the human body.

Medical bionics has many career opportunities as it operates at the intersection of neuroscience, computer science, engineering, medicine and clinical research.

Director, Rob Shepherd talks about medical bionics (podcast)
Audio courtesy of Melbourne University Up Close.

How you hear with normal hearing

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How you hear with a bionic ear

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Sounds enters the ear canal
Sound waves move through the ear canal and strike the eardrum.
 
The ear drum and bones of hearing vibrate
These sound waves cause the eardrum, and the three bones (ossicles) within the middle ear, to vibrate.

Fluid moves through the inner ear
The vibrations move through the fluid in the spiral shaped inner ear – known as the cochlea – and cause the tiny hair cells in the cochlea to move. The hair cells detect the movement and change it into the chemical signals for the hearing nerve.

Hearing nerves talk to the brain The hearing nerve then sends the information to the brain with electrical impulses, where they are interpreted as sound
 The sound processor captures sound and converts it into digital code


The sound processor transmits the digitally-coded sound through the coil to the implant

 
The implant converts the digitally-coded sound to electrical impluses and sends them along the electrode array, which is positioned in the cochlea


 
The implant's electrodes stimulate the cochlea’s hearing nerve, which then sends the impluses to the brain where they are interpreted as sound
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Diagrams courtesy of Cochlear Ltd

History of the bionic ear

The Australian bionic ear is the result of pioneering research by Professor Graeme Clark and his team in the late 1960s at the University of Melbourne Department of Otolaryngology.

The prototype multiple-electrode bionic ear was implanted in the first adult at The Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital in 1978.

The team discovered how to analyse the complex speech signal and present it as electrical stimulation to the hearing nerve so that speech could be understood. They were also successful in engineering a portable speech processor small enough to wear.

The first device for clinical trial worldwide was implanted at the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital in 1982. The international trial established that it was safe and effective and it was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration in 1985, the first multiple-electrode bionic ear to be approved by any world regulatory body.

In 1985, the Melbourne team implanted the first child with a multiple-electrode bionic ear, which was developed industrially by Cochlear Limited in cooperation with The University of Melbourne and the Bionic Ear Institute (now the Bionics Institute).

The Australian bionic ear has now provided the gift of hearing for more than 180,000 people in more than 120 countries.

 
 
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University of Melbourne researcher Joe Tong (left) with George Watson, one of the first recipients of a bionic ear, who helped with initial research.

George is holding the first portable speech processing unit. Previously recipients had to be connected to the large computer in the background.

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