037 How Sound is Transferred to the Inner Ear

In this episode, Leslie talks about how sound is transferred to the inner ear. Because there is fluid inside the cochlea, impedance matching has to take place for the vibration in the fluid to accurately represent the sound that you are hearing.

Watch this video to learn how this process works.

Transcript of Today’s Episode

Hello, and welcome to another episode of Interactive Biology TV where we’re making Biology fun! My name is Leslie Samuel and in this episode, episode 37, I’m going to talk about how sound is transferred to the inner ear.

Let’s see and visit an animation that we looked at in the last episode. We looked at this animation that showed how, when you hear something, there are sound waves that are entering into the ear, and those sound waves come in contact with the eardrum, the tympanic membrane.

The tympanic membrane vibrates back and forth and that vibration is transferred to the three bony ossicles, the malleus, incus, and stapes. It’s connected to the cochlea, and that’s going to cause something to happen in the cochlea that’s going to cause a signal to go via the auditory nerve to the brain. That is how we hear.

Now, what we’re going to talk about is what happens in the process of moving that sound, transferring that sound to the inner ear. Later on, we’re going to look at what happens inside the cochlea.

So, let’s get into some more detail. Here, we’re looking at a structure of the ear. We have the outer ear, so, I’m going to refer to this part, up until the tympanic membrane or the eardrum as the outer ear. Then, we have this section here with the malleus, incus, and stapes, the Eustachian tube. This is called the middle ear (forgive my writing there).

Then we have the with cochlea, the semicircular canals, and the nerves and so on, that’s called the inner ear. We’re going to be talking about the process of sound being transferred from the outer and middle ear to the inner ear.

Now, here’s the deal, in the external auditory canal, that’s in here, we have air. In the Eustachian tube that’s in here, we have air once again. However, inside the cochlea, we don’t have air. We actually have fluid. Now, because of that, it’s going to be harder to get the fluid inside the cochlea to vibrate than it is to get the air inside the middle ear and inside the outer ear to vibrate. Think about it this way. if you’re running in air, which, when you’re running you’re usually running in air, that is not as hard as if you’re trying to run in water.

So, in order for us to have the same strength of signal out here and in the fluid inside the cochlea, something needs to happen and that process is called impedance matching. Impedance is basically resistance and we’re trying to match the amount of resistance here to the amount of resistance here. We want the same signal in the fluid in the cochlea that we have in the air inside the outer ear.

This can sound a little confusing because sometimes, I’m referring to “air,” and sometimes I’m referring to the “ear.” But, what we’re basically saying is, when the signal comes here and causes the tympanic membrane to vibrate, we want the signal to be transferred with the same amount of strength to that fluid inside the cochlea. So, we have to go through this process of impedance matching.

There are two ways that impedance matching is accomplished. Let’s look at the first way. Here we have the three bony ossicles, the malleus, the incus, and the stapes that‘s attached to the oval window here. Now, I’m going to draw the malleus, incus, and stapes over here in a very simple way. So, let’s say this is the malleus, this is the incus and, this is the stapes. Now, it makes sense that if the malleus vibrates back and forth, so let’s say it’s going back and forth, that’s going to cause the incus to vibrate back and forth, and then that’s going to cause the stapes also to vibrate back and forth.

However, because of the way these are connected and the hinges that we have between these three bones, I’m not necessarily going to get the same amount of movement here as I get here. I can orchestrate this in a way that when this moves, these are connected so that these will move even more than this is moving. It will move a greater distance. And this is exactly how the malleus, incus, and stapes are set up so that we have a movement ratio of 1.3 to 1. In other words, and I’m going to take a random number, if this moves 1 micrometer back and forth, this is going to move 1.3 micrometers back and forth.

So, we’re going to get more movement here than we are getting here. And that is going to cause increased pressure on the oval window. So, we’re going to have a certain amount of pressure here, but the amount of pressure we get on that oval window is going to be greater. This is exactly what you want because you want to move the fluid inside the cochlea the same amount, you want the same amount of vibration that we have inside the tympanic membrane so that you can send an accurate signal to the brain via the cochlear nerve, or another name for this is the auditory nerve. So, the first way to compensate for the fact that we have fluid in here is by having a movement ratio of 1.3 to 1 between the stapes and the malleus. That is the first way.

Now, let’s talk about the second way. Here, once again, we have the tympanic membrane or the eardrum, and here, we have the oval window. Now, you will notice something about the size of the two. The tympanic membrane is larger than the oval window. To be more specific, it’s approximately 18.6 times larger. Now, why is this significant? I’m glad you asked. Let’s take a very graphic example. Let’s say we have a surface here and we’re going to see that that surface is your leg. On top of that leg, we’re going to put a block, let’s say we have a brick. What happens if someone comes along and decides they want to punch that brick with a certain amount of force. They punch that brick, it’s on top of your leg, and you might say, “Ow!” because it might hurt. I hope that makes sense.

Now, let’s take a different situation where once again, we have your leg but, instead of having a brick, we have, brace yourselves, a needle! I know what you’re thinking already. This is kind of crazy. Well, it is! Let’s say a person comes by, and they do the same exact thing. They come by and they punch that needle that’s right on the surface of your leg. This is the same amount of force that they punch over here. Are you going to notice the difference in the amount of pressure? I am betting that you will! This is going to hurt much more. Most likely if they’re punching, the needle is going to go into your leg and you are going to scream.

I don’t care how strong you are, you are going to scream. The same amount of force as here however, here you have an increased amount of pressure because you have a smaller area. So, I’m going to write here, “smaller area.” This is not the situation that you want to find yourself in. However, in some cases, it can be a good thing. Here, where we have the tympanic membrane being 18.6 times larger than the oval window, what that is going to do is cause an increased amount of pressure due to this vibration. And, what’s that going to do? Well, we said, we have fluid inside the cochlea, air inside the Eustachian tube and inside the outer ear and we want to match the vibration out here which is easy, with the vibration in here which is harder because of the fluid.

So, once again, the two ways that impedance matching is accomplished so that we can get an accurate amount of vibration inside the cochlea is by having a ratio of 1.3 to 1 between the malleus and the stapes; and by having the tympanic membrane 18.6 times larger than the oval window. That’s going to cause the fluid inside the cochlea to vibrate in a way that matches the vibration that’s happening out here. Then, that causes a signal that goes via the auditory nerve to the brain.

In the next video, I’m going to talk more about what happens inside the cochlea. So, make sure to check that one out. That’s it for this video. If you have any questions, as usual, feel free to ask them in the comments section below and I’ll be happy to respond to your questions. Who knows? I might even make a video to answer your specific question. Also, you can always visit the website at Interactive-Biology.com for more Biology videos and other resources. That’s it for now. I’ll see you on the next one.

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Leave a Reply

  1. WOW I was so confused with this subjects, but after i watched this i found them easy to learn…. how wonderful you are teaching… thanks a lot

  2. So this ratio between the The Outer and inner ear to match the intensity of the sound vibration is a perfect match in intensity?
    Did the ear’s workings become this precise when we were all still Primate apes?

  3. @pietdenolder lol. Thanks for your feedback (as negative as it might be). I will agree to disagree on the evolution thing. And I will probably continue to laugh at my own jokes, because you won’t do it for me πŸ˜€

    I do wish you all the best though.

  4. @pietdenolder lol. Thanks for your feedback (as negative as it might be). I
    will agree to disagree on the evolution thing. And I will probably continue
    to laugh at my own jokes, because you won’t do it for me πŸ˜€ I do wish you
    all the best though.

  5. thank you so much, my book didn’t mention some of the details you explained. but why do we have that fluid in cochlea instead of air? is there any connection to the troth? because I heard about throaty infection going into middle ear.

  6. nice video! i am glad that I have found your link….these videos are really helpful and they help clear things up…thanks again!

  7. thank youuuuuuuuuuu. Way better explanation then my bio teacher. Do you have a diploma prep?

  8. Thank you for posting these videos! This is great review for tomorrow’s test :).

  9. Thank you so much for putting this video up .. i home school my daughter and your videos are perfect!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  10. @interactivebiology Hello Samuel, Can I ask you sir, what software are you using for your lectures , the one that you write with. Thanks.

  11. dude youre awesome! thanks, I knew the baseics but mate you’ve made it so much clearer to me!

  12. thanks for explaining this in layman terms. keep up the Good work

  13. i have presentation tomorrow about the mechanism of hearing and you SAVED me with this videos ! we love you ! keep it uppppppppp

  14. Hi.
    I loved your video on the explanation of how we hear. I look forward to watching more videos from Interactive Biology.


  16. Hi there! You address impedance matching, but I don’t see any mention of “the buckling motion of the tympanic membrane”. This is another way that compensation happens, right? How does it work? THANK YOU!!!

  17. I am grateful for this video…we can know all the technical terms and not understand what’s going on. You have simplified it in an amazing way, so that after we can apply the “scientific language”. Thanks!..P.S i love your GT accent, am i right?, i know my Island Folks lol

  18. Thank you so much! I totally get it! You are going to make me sound super smart on my lesson to morrow.

  19. hi,
    your videos are helpful.
    Can you explain in detail the neural capture of the auditory signals. like the cochlea nerve, Spiral ganglion, afferent and effernt fibers
    then the ascending pathway to the brain thru the brainstem, cochlear nucleus and so on..

  20. Here’s what you do when you don’t enjoy a video: Find another one.

    Pretty simple. No need to get nasty when someone is making an intelligent video in the hopes of helping others. Anyways, thanks for the video, Interactive Biology Man. I at least learned from it.

  21. I have something to say about the stapes increasing the distance when receiving a vibration from the malleus and incus. The Guyton says that the ossicular lever system actually reduces its distance and increases its force of movements 1.3 times. Guyton is very specific about this.

  22. I like your answer to this kind of nasty comments πŸ™‚ i really like it
    and: the video is great.

  23. You make it so simple that anybody will be able to understand this. I will give you five star.Your better than my ENT in explaining this ear stuff. Thank you…

  24. I have fluid coming out of my left ear at night when I lay on my left side, it doesn’t happen all the time but it is irritating. Could it be the fluid from the Cochlea? and how would I get help to stop this fluid from coming out?

    Jim Lane
    [email protected]

  25. hey interactive Biology.
    i like vid! very classy :).
    i want to ask. is there such thing as a cochlea infection?
    i have an ear infection which has an effect on my balance. i can get slight vertigo with it. do you think antibiotics can help this??

  26. hi! You can watch episodes 036 to 040. You’ll learn about the different parts of the ear from those videos. Have fun learning!

  27. How on earth does an educated individual believe that all of gene theory is incorrect? The mathematical, archeological and biological evidence is absolutely undeniable and only an incredible amount of personal prejudice could lead you to another conclusion. Also don’t creationists believe the earth is around 5000 years old? That is to believe that humans came to exist after the domestication of the dog and around the time of the agricultural revolution. Unbelievable!

  28. Just watched your video. Totally understood everything,job well done. Keep up the good work πŸ™‚

  29. Thank you, very nicely done. As a EE, I have needed to design Impedance matching circuits many times to enable the wave power transfer from dissimilar mediums. When I first learned of this feature in the ear, the hair on the back of my neck stood up…. how could anyone, especially a scientist, not recognize the need for a complete understanding of fluid dynamics, Newtonian Physics, including the complex mathematics involved in impedance matching deny this is a designed system?

  30. i learned more from this video , i really understood mechanism behind sound wave, thanx

  31. dis video ws undoubtedly awesome…bt cud u plz design cideos fr all chapters included in biology fr standard 11th nd 12th…!!!plz…>?????????????
    need ur help…!!

  32. You can get a lot done with trial and error over the course of a couple billion years…

  33. Forgive your writing there? Hell, if I was able to write so pretty with a mouse I would be king of the world!!! Oh and this is an excellent educational video, keep up the good work!

  34. 8:41 The hand is going to be very hurt as well πŸ˜€
    Best video i could find in YouTube. Explained it very clearly what my physics teacher taught me in 3 lessons (I’m learning medical physics). Very helpful! Thx Again!!!

  35. THIS IS GREAT. I learned about all of this in intro to audiology, but the way you worded things and paired it with the visual just made it all click. Thank you!

    also loved the brick/needle example. Disturbing, yet effective haha

  36. Hi! I want to cite this video as a source for a research paper I am writing. Could you tell me where this video was made?

  37. Hi there! Thank you for using this video as a resource. You can include that this video was created by Prof. Leslie Samuel at the Interactive-Biology website as indicated in the above description for the video. All the best!

  38. I love this guy!! His enthusiasm and accent makes me smile! This was a very informative and overall well made video! πŸ™‚

  39. I am a medical student, and I was clueless when my medical school professor spoke about impedance matching. Your video made it easy to understand both effects. Thanks a lot Professor Samuel.

  40. Does the fluid in the cocleah have anything do with our ability to stand? Our balance?

  41. very good explanation but that example of needle going inside the leg was really crazy…guess , thts how doctors talk…!

  42. Wow! i love the way you explained this. Thank you so much for explaining it to us in toddler language. It is all so clear now!

  43. You could look up on proper ways to cite a webpage. Of course, you need to provide the link, and include Leslie Samuel in the citation.

  44. I agree! Intelligent design really does play here. The different parts of our body seem to have specific functions, and yet they are in harmony.

  45. I think so. Maybe you could check out the next video where Leslie will explain the cochlear fluid.

  46. The “stapes” bone could also be called “stirrups”, right? I’ve grown up using the latter.

  47. Are you implying that the human ear is irreducibly complex? You’re sorely mistaken if so. Also, if humans are made in the image of god, why would we have such inferior ears to “lower” animals, not to mention how easily damaged our hearing is? So, yes we do say god doesn’t exist, but that assertion isn’t based on such tenuous arguments as yours for his existence, which seem to be seated solely in your own lack of imagination.

  48. i learnt the names differently πŸ˜›
    are those bones also called as hammer, anvil and stirrup? O.o
    it’s kind of hard to understand with different names…
    and just a question, why do we have that fluid inside that cochlea? πŸ˜€

  49. No body forced you to believe or not to, if you think god does not exist, so be it, the last thing i want is that people like you to comment on my statement.

  50. my doctor washed my external ear for metal when the radiologist said the metal was in my inner auditory canal…..i pass out , have vertigo,,,ant walk straight…but i can sit and look normal he said….what do you think will happen to me? [email protected]

  51. by the way this drs name is dr. jon jonikas at the va hospital in mt. vernon…he says nothing in wrong with my knee but at nite i cant sleep ,,,ev ery nite…scream and cry from the pain and he wont give me pain medicine cuz i am dizzy but he doesnt know why i am dizzy….i think its menieres from the metal…c below other post

  52. Thank you. This was informative and easy to understand. It was useful for the context that I’m interested in. My granddaughter has EVA and I’m trying to understand why the enlarged endolymphatic duct and sac affect the (1) ionic composition and (2) volume such that homeostasis is disrupted to the extent it functions abnormally or not at all. Just because it is bigger why the negative effect?

  53. You channel is soo helpful! You describe everything very well and make it seem so simple. I always refer to your videos first before any others!

  54. You channel is soo helpful! You describe everything very well and make it seem so simple. I always refer to your videos first before any others!

  55. Hi.I am from India…i teach Biology to high school students.This video is very informative and amazingly done.I am going to use it for my teaching…thanks…

  56. I’m a first year medical student. This helped me learn about impedance matching easily. I never got it until now. thanks a million.

  57. Maleus, incus and stapes are latin forms of the same terms.
    The displacement of the fluid (you’re talking about perilymph) allows movement of the basilar membrane which is crucial for moving the hair cells, signalling the location of displacement of the basilar membrane, and so signalling pitch. (there are actually 2 different types of fluid, perilymph and endolymph, which have different dissolved ion contents in order to generate electrical signals in the hair cells)
    Hope this helps!

  58. I am trying to understand better how sound waves are transferred for A&P. Looking for a video or web page that list in order the structures sound waves pass through as they enter the ear and make their way to the brain for processing ending at cranial nerve. Do you have anything like that? I am just trying to get an understanding before my test next week. Thank you!!!

  59. great job! i am a med student and i couldnt understand the mecanism of
    hearing till now! πŸ™‚ actually it helped my friends too coz we were totally
    lost(the least to say) so thank u πŸ™‚

  60. Leslie, you are better than carrot cake being served on vacation in the Bahamas! Thank you for going step by step and being clear. If only all teachers could teach the way you do. Thank you, again!!!

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