Here's a novel gift idea for that nerdy friend: an earring shaped like the inner ear. (It's an ear-ring! Get it? As in, from ears. Ha!) This paper describes the metal casts of inner ears made by the anatomist M. Wharton Young in the 1930s, using the temporal bone as a mold. It is hard to see the inside of this bone without using X-ray and contrast agents (which Young also did later on), so he used metal to make casts of the bone. (For details of the process, check out the full description below.) Later, he had these casts made into jewelry and presented them as gifts - with recipients including Nobel Prize winner Georg von Bekesy and even the Governor of Hawaii. Want to get a cochlear earring of your own? Thanks to the internet, now you can.
Metal Casts Showing the Three-Dimensional Structure of the Human Inner Ear Were Converted Into Jewelry. "This article describes a straightforward method for making metal casts of the human inner ear developed in 1937 by M. Wharton Young of Howard University College of Medicine. These casts were used to study anatomy, but there do not appear to be any published photographs of the casts. Inner ear casts converted into jewelry provide the only known images of this work. Later, Young studied the inner ear in living rhesus monkeys by injecting mercury into their membranous labyrinths. Young's investigations indicated a blind-ending perilymphatic sac that was not in continuity with the subarachnoid space." Bonus quote from the full text: "Young’s technique was to treat a temporal bone sequentially with weak alkali, 95% alcohol, xylol, and hydrogen peroxide to remove all soft tissues. This enabled the bone to serve as a mold for casting molten metal. The casting metal originally used was Wood’s metal, although Young’s later publication refers to the use of Wood’s metal and lead. Both Wood’s metal (an alloy of bismuth, lead, tin, and cadmium) and lead melt at relatively low temperatures that allow them to be used in casting without damaging the bone. Both the casting metal and the temporal bone were maintained above the melting point of the casting metal. Gentle pressure applied to the casting metal forced it through the fenestra ovalis and fenestra rotunda and into the spaces of the inner ear labyrinth, displacing the air formerly present through pores in the surrounding bone. After the casting was complete and the metal solidified by cooling, the bone was removed with 15% hydrochloric acid--leaving behind a cast of the inner ear." Related content: NCBI ROFL: A novel method for the removal of ear cerumen.Flashback Friday: Superglue in the ear double feature: pros and cons.Flashback Friday: Could the next all-natural insect repellent be made out of earwax?