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Amigurumi for Nerds -- A Knitted Hearing Cell!

What on earth is that, you ask?!  This little stuffed guy is a good luck charm I knitted for my husband for his first interview.  We are both scientists, and he is currently applying for professor positions aimed at having his own research laboratory to study hearing and deafness.

Nice description from Candace M. Adams's teaching website.

Yes, this a stuffed version of the part of the "hair cell" he studies, a cell type in the inner ear that is absolutely essential for hearing. You see that little moustache in an upside-down V-shape?  Those are specialized cilia on each hair cell, the hairs if you will, that are arranged very carefully.  When you hear a sound, the vibrations and frequencies are transmitted through fluid in the inner ear, tickling these little hairs and activating a neuronal pathway to the brain.  My amigurumi is just one surface of the hair cell (which is really quite long).   The astonishing anatomy doesn't stop there, each hair cell is also arranged in an exquisite order amongst his brethren, with all the moustaches pointing in the same direction.  This direction and arrangement is critical for hearing.

Long-time followers may recall that I made him a "Hair Cell Sweater", where you can see the hair cells lined up on the body and up the sleeves.

There's a mutant one in the middle of the sleeve, with the V going in the wrong direction... can you find it?

Perhaps now you can recognize the similarities!

One of his discoveries details how this hair cell surface is distinctly different on one side of the hairy moustache than the other.  See his publication here.  This is a photo taken with a scanning electron microscope -- do you see how there are short wormy things underneath the longer hairs?  Those are microvilli -- but see how they are missing from the top!

This is where the knitter comes in with her messy arsenal of weird novelty yarns.

Yes, I actually had a "microvilli" yarn!!  This is some crazy Tahki/Stacey Charles yarn I bought a bunch of years before I had yarn sense.  But wow, am I glad I did!

I basically made a circle out of smooth fingering yarn, and then did intarsia to accomplish the V- shaped boundary between the wormy and smooth yarns.

For the moustache, I took little pieces of fuzzy yarn and strung them through like fringe, securing them on the opposite side.  I then trimmed them so that they had graded hair lengths, just like in real hair cells.

Finally, I had to make another structure I haven't described yet, the "kinocilium".  That's the really big "hair" in the center, and it is really an entirely different structure, but it serves as the point of the V-shaped moustache.  I braided some coarse mohair together and made a knot at the tip!

I then made a back with no intarsia and used all the ends of the yarn as stuffing, and Mr. Hair Cell was done!

We don't know whether the good luck charm has worked yet, I hope to tell you the good news someday, but I can tell you that this little guy has been on every flight since and gets an extra squeeze before it's time to perform.  :)

(Good luck my B, I know that all your incredible hard work will pay off!!)

UPDATE: Wow!  Prestigious Science magazine has published a small review of this post on their website!  I can now say I am "published" in one of the top journals in academic research... and it was for knitting.  ;)


  1. You is one mad scientist/slash/knitter! I hope your little good luck charm worked!

  2. I tried some time ago to a cellular pattern of wool, but it would have been too complex and incomprehensible to people's eyes! So later I drew a model of hat representing elementary particles, but it was too eccentric to wear! :D

    I have therefore decided to work on various projects inspired by the film'' Tron'' on which I worked this year and next year.

  3. I really enjoyed reading this. Your husband is lucky that you spoil him with these knitted gifts customized to his greatest interests. I hope the good luck charm works!

  4. Hope the charm did the trick and good luck to you in the deramores contest.


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