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Image of the Week: Guinea pig cochlea

6 Dec, 2013

B0003552 Cochlea of the inner ear - coloured - purpleThis image appears to show a towering helter-skelter, but this structure is actually only a few millimetres long – it is the cochlea of a guinea pig!

The cochlea is located in the inner ear and is integral to the process of hearing. It is filled with a fluid and has many rows of hair cells running along the spiral structure. When vibrations come into the ear, the fluid moves, which triggers the hair cells to send signals to the brain. The brain processes these signals into the experience we know as sound. Amazingly, humans and most other mammals have a very similar spiral structure located in their inner ears, which performs the same function.

Dr David Furness used a Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) to capture this image of the tiny cochlea. An SEM uses a focused beam of electrons to produce an image of a sample; colour is then added to help viewers understand the different elements more easily. David’s use of a deep purple colour set against a dark background adds enchantment and drama, which reflects the truly remarkable nature of this tiny structure.

This image reminds us that the best things come in small packages – an apt message as we start thinking about Christmas shopping!

Image credit: Dr David Furness, University of Keele, Wellcome Images

Wellcome Images is one of the world’s richest and most unusual collections, with themes ranging from medical and social history to contemporary healthcare and biomedical science. All our images are available in digital form and many are free to use non-commercially under the terms of a Creative Commons licence.

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