Sounds from Silence: Graeme Clark and the Bionic Ear Story

I just finished reading Sounds from Silence: Graeme Clark and the Bionic Ear Story written by Professor Graeme Clark, the inventor of the multichannel cochlear implant that today is the product made by Cochlear.  It was a fantastic read, and I was so drawn in that I stayed up all night to finish the book!

Sounds from Silence offers a good mix of science, personal stories from CI users, and snippets from Graeme Clark’s family life, so it’s never dull or dry.  It gave great insight into Clark’s passion for people with hearing loss, which began with his own father’s deafness and grew into Cochlear, which has given the gift of sound to over 120,000 ears today!

Some of the most interesting things I learned:

  • When Prof. Clark’s research was beginning in 1970, there was great debate about the merits of a multichannel implant versus the single channel implant being pioneered by 3M and the House Ear Institute.  Back then, Clark had to do many research studies to show that the complex nature of sound could not be sufficiently transmitted by just a single electrode and had many critics.  It was funny to read that, because multichannel implants seem like such a no-brainer now.

  • Clark knew that it would be better to have a totally implantable CI (versus the infection-prone “plug and socket” design suggested by some), but the idea to have the external processor held on by a magnet came later.  At first, the external “transmitter” was held on by an over-the-head headband or an around-the-head sweatband, which quickly proved impractical.

  • The first “speech processor” was about the size of a backpack and must have been a real pain to carry around!  What a far cry from the small BTEs of today!

  • Graeme Clark came up with the idea of an electrode array with a stiffness gradient (to better insert into the cochlea to minimize trauma to residual hearing and inner ear structures) by sticking blades of grass into seashells on a family vacation.

Sounds from Silence gave me insight into Grame Clark’s incredible passion and brilliant scientific mind.  While it was great to read about Clark’s successes, I was most encouraged by his honest account of the many times he failed before finally creating the multichannel implant.  It gave me inspiration for my own studies, and reassurance that even the best minds have days where they must pick up and start all over again.

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