We went inside Cochlear Australia’s HQ
The Footnotes: Lisa, so firstly… what is a cochlear implant?
Lisa: A cochlear implant is what we call an active electronic medical device. Many people suffer hearing loss because their hair cells in the inner ear (which is your cochlea) are damaged. The cochlear implant takes over the job of the hair cells to electrically stimulate the nerve which sends sound signals to the brain, which enables you to hear. So they pick up sounds and transform them into electrical pulses which stimulate the hearing nerve, mimicking the process of natural hearing.
The Footnotes: So it’s not a hearing aid?
Lisa: No, a hearing aid works by simply making the sound louder and sending the sound down the ear canal. It sits in your outer ear. They do not restore normal hearing, but instead detect sounds and amplify them to levels that make speech easier to hear.
A cochlear implant is implanted under the skin so you can’t see it, and the electrodes sit in the cochlea. It does need an external sound processor to capture the noise, and sends a signal to the implant. Often you can’t see the sound processor either, we have a variety of colours and options.
The Footnotes: Why do you love what you do?
Lisa: Hearing is important for so many reasons – it is one of our five main senses. It has been shown that by losing your hearing which can happen suddenly (possibly caused by a virus) or over time, affects your social interactions, learning and speech.
So why I love what I do… Maybe it’s easier I show you…. this guy [as seen in the full video above] is hearing for the first time.
The Footnotes: Do cochlear implants get made here on site?
Lisa: Absolutely, a lot of people don’t realise we make all the implants here in Australia.
Cochlear implants are made up of so many interesting materials – metals, ceramics, plastics and integrated chips (or the brains). The people here are putting all the components together to build the implants. They have very strict processes and instructions to follow.
The Footnotes: What did you study?
Lisa: I started with a Bachelor of Science at UTS majoring in Material Science, and then moved on to my Masters of Science, also at UTS.
The Footnotes: If cochlear implants are already in use, as in, they’ve already been invented… isn’t your job as a scientist already done?
Lisa: Of course not! We want to make them better, more efficient – I mean look how far we’ve come already. The materials, chips, and software technology are getting better so we are getting smaller, lighter and with more functionality. We are now enabling connectivity through our iPhones – even find my sound processor!
The Footnotes: Finally, what’s the biggest misconception about science?
Lisa: That it’s boring. It definitely isn’t.