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New experiments suggest that just vibrating the ear bones could create shortcuts for sounds to enter the brain, thus boosting hearing. Most people can hear sounds in the range of about 20 hertz (Hz) at the low end to about 20 kilohertz (kHz) at the high end. Twenty kHz would sound like a very high-pitched mosquito buzz, and 20 Hz would be what you'd hear if "you were at an R&B concert and you just stood next to the bass," explained Michael Qin, a senior research scientist at the Naval Submarine Medical Research Laboratory in Connecticut. "It would be the thing that's moving your pants leg."
Qin and his team are now exploring which bones are most likely to be most sensitive to ultrasonic vibrations. Could such research lead to devices that give us superhuman hearing or improved hearing aids? Qin is mum for now. "That's the great thing about basic science, right? It lets you know how things work, and you can bend it to many applications."
Scientists have discovered that in the brains of the blind, the visual cortex has not become useless, as they once believed. When blind people use another sense -- touch or hearing, for example -- to substitute for sight, the brain's visual cortex becomes active, even though no images reach it from the optic nerve. Echolocation creates its own images.