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The year was 1929. Rowing, lawyers, and cat phones — that was what Princeton’s all about, baby! Jokes aside, some bizarre research and projects paved the way for some massive breakthroughs in the science of hearing. Relax…the cat survived. 

Cat phone? How does that sound?

Professor Ernest Glen Wever and his research assistant Charles William Bray embarked on the experiment of a lifetime in the spring of 1929. Armed with nothing more than curiosity and a cat, they set out to make the world’s first and only cat phone.

The goal was to test how the auditory nerve perceives sound. In the name of science, let the absurdity begin.

The cat-to-phone transformation

Bray and Wever were scientists, not sadists. They humanely decided to sedate the cat before getting into its head (literally) to access the auditory nerve. They attached one end of a telephone wire to the auditory nerve and the other to the telephone receiver.

Bray would talk into the cat’s ears. Wever would listen in the telephone receiver 50 feet away in a soundproof room. Wever could hear him loud and clear. And the cat phone was born!

Sounds like a breakthrough

The dynamic duo was trying to determine if the response of the auditory nerve correlated to the intensity of the stimulus. As the sound passing through the cat’s ear became louder, the pitch of the sound in the receiver became higher. This confirmed that the frequency of the auditory nerve correlated to the frequency of the sound.

Wever and Bray were awarded the Howard Crosby Warren Medal of Society for their work. Their research is recognized as setting the stage for the development of cochlear implants used in modern hearing aids. The device takes sound vibrations and turns them into electrical signals. In a way, every deaf person with a cochlear implant has a tiny cat phone in their ears. Meow!