By J. Fingas

Scientists have toyed with printing ear implants for ages, but they’ve usually been more cosmetic than functional. Princeton has just developed a bionic ear that could transcend those mere replacements to offer a full-on upgrade.

Rather than seed hydrogel with cells and call it a day, the researchers 3D printed a blend of calf cells, hydrogel and an integrated, coiled antenna made from silver nanoparticles.

The frankly spooky project doesn’t resemble a natural ear all that closely, but it merges organic and synthetic more gracefully than inserting a chip into an existing implant.

It can also expand hearing beyond normal human levels: the experimental version picks up radio waves, for example.

Although the ear is just the first step on a long path toward natural-feeling bionics, it already has us wondering if we’ll be actively seeking out replacement body parts in the future… not that we’re about to go all Van Gogh to get them.