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Listening to the Ear


Shera, Christopher A. (1992) Listening to the Ear. Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/VAK9-MK96.


Otoacoustic emissions demonstrate that the ear creates sound while listening to sound, offering a promising acoustic window on the mechanics of hearing in awake, listening human beings. That window is clouded, however, by an incomplete knowledge of wave reflection and transmission, both forth and back within the cochlea and through the middle ear. This thesis "does windows," addressing wave propagation and scattering on both sides of the middle ear. A summary of highlights follows. Measurements of the cochlear input impedance in cat are used to identify a new symmetry in cochlear mechanics-termed "tapering symmetry" after its geometric interpretation in simple models-that guarantees that the wavelength of the traveling wave changes slowly with position near the stapes. Waves therefore propagate without reflection through the basal turns of the cochlea. Analytic methods for solving the cochlear wave equations using a perturbative scattering series are given and used to demonstrate that, contrary to common belief, conventional cochlear models exhibit negligible internal reflection whether or not they accurately represent the tapering symmetries of the inner ear. Frameworks for the systematic "deconstruction" of eardrum and middle-ear transduction characteristics are developed and applied to the analysis of noninvasive measurements of middle-ear and cochlear mechanics. A simple phenomenological model of inner-ear compressibility that correctly predicts hearing thresholds in patients with missing or disarticulated middle-ear ossicles is developed and used to establish an upper bound on cochlear compressibility several orders of magnitude smaller than that provided by direct measurements. Accurate measurements of stimulus frequency evoked otoacoustic emissions are performed and used to determine the form and frequency variation of the cochlear traveling-wave ratio noninvasively. Those measurements are inverted to obtain the spatial distribution of mechanical inhomogeneities responsible for evoked emission. Although current models require that the periodicities found in emission spectra and threshold hearing curves originate in a corresponding corrugation in the mechanics of the cochlea, it is shown that the observed spectral periodicities can arise spontaneously through the dynamics of wave propagation and reflection and that the organ of Corti, as suggested by the anatomy, need manifest no particular translational symmetries.

Item Type:Thesis (Dissertation (Ph.D.))
Subject Keywords:(Physics and Neurobiology)
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy
Major Option:Physics
Minor Option:Neurobiology
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Frautschi, Steven C.
Thesis Committee:
  • Frautschi, Steven C. (chair)
  • Zweig, George
  • Gomez, Ricardo
  • Bower, James M.
  • Peck, Charles W.
  • Van Essen, David C.
Defense Date:2 January 1992
Record Number:CaltechTHESIS:09072011-150449036
Persistent URL:
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:6653
Deposited By: Dan Anguka
Deposited On:07 Sep 2011 23:03
Last Modified:03 Nov 2021 23:12

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