Duke Engineering 75th Anniversary Lecture


Blake Wilson, DSc, DEng

Co-Inventor of the cochlear Implant

The Development of the Modern Cochlear Implant

and the first substantial restoration of a human sense using a medical intervention

March 5, 2015 | Baldwin Auditorium, Duke University

Sponsored by the Office of the Provost, Pratt School of Engineering,
and School of Medicine at Duke University


Blake Wilson

From the Presenter

“Four large steps forward made the modern cochlear implant (CI) possible: (1) the pioneering step to implant the first patients and to develop devices that were safe and had a lifespan of many years; (2) the development of devices that provided multiple sites of stimulation in the cochlea to take advantage of the tonotopic (frequency) organization of the auditory system; (3) the development of processing strategies that utilized the

multiple sites far better than before and thereby enabled high levels of speech recognition for most users of CIs; and (4) stimulation in addition to that provided by a unilateral CI, including bilateral electrical stimulation or combined electric and acoustic stimulation, the latter for persons with residual hearing at low frequencies. In this talk, I trace those steps, mention some remaining problems with

Ear drawing

CIs, and offer some possibilities for the future. Today, most users of CIs can communicate with ease in many everyday listening situations without the aid of visual cues. This ability is a long trip indeed from total or nearly total deafness. What was once regarded as a miracle (Gospel of Mark 7:31-37) is now a clinical reality, thanks to the four steps forward and the perseverance of the pioneers.”

Presenter Bio

Blake S. Wilson, DSc, DEng, engineered the breakthrough sound-processing strategies that made it possible for cochlear implant recipients to understand words and sounds with far greater clarity than before. His contributions resulted in a rapid expansion in the number of deaf and nearly deaf persons who have received a cochlear implant in one or both ears—numbering in the hundreds of thousands worldwide.

Wilson is the recipient of the 2015 Russ Prize from the National Academy of Engineering, considered the top prize in the world for bioengineering, and the 2013 Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award, one of the world’s most prestigious science prizes. A 1974 Duke Engineering graduate, he is an adjunct professor of biomedical engineering, electrical and computer engineering, and surgery at Duke University, and co-director of the Duke Hearing Center.

Photo of Blake Wilson provided by the National Academy of Engineering

Baldwin Auditorium