New articles are published every month under the headings below.

UVA physicist develops new kind of earplugs

Feb 2018 Charlottesville Newsplex

They are called EarJellies, and they are made from a material that is trademarked as MemorySil.
"It is a very soft material that can barely stand up under its own weight, but it remembers shapes and fights to retain them, making it ideal for conforming to the shape of an individual's ear canal," said Lou Bloomfield, the professor who created the material for the new earplugs. "It forms a very good seal for blocking out loud sounds."

Along the lines of foam earplugs that are commonly available on the market, the EarJellies are rolled between the fingers to create a longish plug that a person can then insert into their ear. Once there, the material tries to return to its original shape, pressing against the canal walls and creating what is essentially a custom seal.

Ear jelliesHowever, Bloomfield says his new earplugs give a person more time to insert them correctly, and since the earplugs do not crimp, there are no gaps that could allow sound to pass. "Studies show that most earplugs do not perform in the field nearly as well as they do in the lab," he added. "But EarJellies, when properly inserted, perform as well in use by real people in noisy environments as they do in controlled laboratory conditions."

A San Francisco-based entrepreneur identified the technology and worked with the UVA Licensing and Ventures Group to license the technology, getting it ready to produce and market. EarJellies will be introduced to the public through a Kickstarter campaign near the end of this month, and then they will be sold online and through a few retail outlets by summer.

The earplugs may help block loud sounds like lawn equipment, concert music, heavy machinery, and gunfire. Bloomfield believes the EarJellies will be popular with people who work in industrial environments, the military, sport shooters, and people trying to block out noise while they sleep. Swimmers can also use them to keep water out of their ears. He also says that while the earplugs reduce potentially damaging sounds, they do not cause much sound distortion, which means concert attendees can enjoy the music and protect their ears.

Bloomfield hopes the military will look into the product as well, saying the biggest health care expenses seen by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs involve hearing loss and tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, which are both caused from prolonged exposure to loud noises.

When removed from the ear, the earplugs gradually return to its original moulded shape, making it a reusable. The material was originally developed years ago to help stabilise wobbly chairs, and Bloomfield says they could be looking into using it for shoe insoles, canes, crutches and prosthetics.
Future products that may be made from the MemorySil material may include ear buds, ear tips for hearing aids, ear muffs, and headsets.

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