Vatican Radio: Still Making Waves

A new report on the health effects of the Vatican's shortwave transmitters says the church is causing cancer in children

3 min read

20 July 2010--A new study ordered by a court in Rome has revived the decadelong battle between the inhabitants of Cesano, Italy, who live close to a huge complex of shortwave antennas, and the operator of this complex, Vatican Radio [see "Sins of Transmission?" IEEE Spectrum , October 2005].  Environmentalists and the residents of Cesano and neighboring communities have been claiming for years that radiation from the antenna complex, located on a large plot 25 kilometers north of Rome, has increased the number of leukemia and lymphoma cases in children. It is an accusation the Vatican continues to deny.

The new 300-page research report, by a team at Milan's National Tumor Institute led by Andrea Micheli, supports the claim of Cesano residents: Nineteen children living at a distance of 12 km or less from the antennas died from leukemia or lymphoma between 1980 and 2003, a figure higher than in control groups in other parts of the country.

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Restoring Hearing With Beams of Light

Gene therapy and optoelectronics could radically upgrade hearing for millions of people

13 min read
A computer graphic shows a gray structure that’s curled like a snail’s shell. A big purple line runs through it. Many clusters of smaller red lines are scattered throughout the curled structure.

Human hearing depends on the cochlea, a snail-shaped structure in the inner ear. A new kind of cochlear implant for people with disabling hearing loss would use beams of light to stimulate the cochlear nerve.

Lakshay Khurana and Daniel Keppeler

There’s a popular misconception that cochlear implants restore natural hearing. In fact, these marvels of engineering give people a new kind of “electric hearing” that they must learn how to use.

Natural hearing results from vibrations hitting tiny structures called hair cells within the cochlea in the inner ear. A cochlear implant bypasses the damaged or dysfunctional parts of the ear and uses electrodes to directly stimulate the cochlear nerve, which sends signals to the brain. When my hearing-impaired patients have their cochlear implants turned on for the first time, they often report that voices sound flat and robotic and that background noises blur together and drown out voices. Although users can have many sessions with technicians to “tune” and adjust their implants’ settings to make sounds more pleasant and helpful, there’s a limit to what can be achieved with today’s technology.

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