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Your ears must convert energy five times to create neural signals your brain interprets as sound. This fantastic sequence makes your hearing possible.

The sequence

  1. 💥 Sound energy: Invisible sound waves travel through the air into the ear canal and to the ear drum.
  2. 💥 Mechanical energy: The eardrum vibrates from the sound waves.
    • These vibrations cause the auditory ossicles, three tiny bones in the middle ear (malleus, incus, and stapes), to move. These little bones (the smallest in your body) amplify the sound vibrations.
  3. 💥 Mechanical-fluid energy: The mechanical movements of the auditory ossicles move fluid inside the cochlea.
    • The waves of fluid cause the hair cells (sensory cells) to move.
  4. 💥 Chemical energy: As the hair cells move back and forth with the fluid waves, microscopic hair-like projections (known as stereocilia) bump into each other and begin to bend. This bending action opens up channels that release chemicals.
  5. 💥 Electrical energy: Nerves connecting the cochlea with the temporal lobe of your brain convert the chemical energy to electrical energy resulting in neural signals flowing to your brain.

Why it matters

Converting energy five times makes it possible for the auditory cortex to receive neural signals from your ears and interpret them as sound, giving you the gift of hearing.

 

Go deeper: How ears work →

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