Chicago (IL) - There's a report on NewScientist.com stating that scientists at Northwestern University have discovered that infrared light "can stimulate neurons in the inner ear as precisely as sound waves, a discovery that could lead to better cochlear implants for deaf people."
According to the article, "The hearing provided by today's implants is good enough to enable deaf children to develop speech skills that are remarkably similar to hearing children's. Implant users still find it tough to appreciate music, communicate in a noisy environment and understand tonal languages like Mandarin, however. That's because the implants use only 20 or so electrodes, a small number compared to the 3000-odd hair cells in a healthy ear."
The belief here is that an infrared stimulation system could provide far more than 20 channels of input, allowing certain types of deaf individuals (those due to damage in the outer ear) would be able to hear nearly as well as everybody else.
Read more at NewScientist.com.