The human ear is often regarded as a paragon of mechanical engineering. To understand how the hearing system works, scientists have proposed detailed models of its specific aspects—the transfer of acoustic energy from the atmosphere to the tympanic membrane via the external ear; the coupling of the tympanic membrane to the oval window of the cochlea via ossicles; the resultant fluidic oscillations in the cochlear ducts; the formation of traveling waves in the basilar membrane of the cochlea; the mechanical stimulation of inner hair cells by the basilar membrane; and the consequential transduction of nerve impulses. Scientists have also proposed models to explain the phenomenon of enhancement of the traveling waves in the basilar membrane by synchronized co-contraction in the length of outer hair cells (OHCs). Although it is unrealistic that any OHC would contract in length without expanding in diameter, the models proposed by other analysts have so far incorporated the longitudinal contraction of OHCs only, suggesting that the impact of any diametric expansion of OHCs would be relatively trival. Here we show that the basilar membrane would behave like a Beam-Column system, which may be significantly influenced by the diametric expansion of OHCs.

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