How the Human Ear Works | Summary and Q&A

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November 9, 2016
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World Science Festival
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How the Human Ear Works

TL;DR

Sound waves create vibrations in the air, which then cause the eardrum to vibrate and be transmitted to the brain. Different animals can hear different frequencies of sound.

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Questions & Answers

Q: How does sound reach our brain?

Sound waves create vibrations in the air, which are then transmitted by the eardrum and the three bones in the ear to the cochlea in the inner ear. Nerve cells in the cochlea respond to different frequencies of sound and send signals to the brain.

Q: Can animals hear frequencies that humans can't?

Yes, animals like dogs and elephants can hear frequencies outside the human range. Dogs can hear up to 44,000 Hertz, while elephants can hear down to 17 Hertz. They use these abilities to communicate and perceive sounds that humans cannot.

Q: Why do high-frequency sounds get damaged first in the ear?

The cells in the inner ear that respond to high-frequency sounds are located near the front of the cochlea. These cells can be easily damaged by loud sounds or with age, leading to hearing loss in the high-frequency range.

Q: How do large whales communicate over long distances?

Some large whales can communicate with each other using low-frequency sounds that can travel hundreds of miles through the water. These sounds are transmitted through the water and can be sensed by other whales, allowing for long-distance communication.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • When a sound is produced, it creates vibrations in the air that cause high-pressure and low-pressure zones. These vibrations reach the eardrum, causing it to vibrate and transmit the sound to the brain.

  • Three small bones in the ear magnify the vibrations from the eardrum, allowing us to hear.

  • Different parts of the inner ear respond to different frequencies of sound, and certain high-frequency cells can be damaged with exposure to loud sounds or aging.

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