Elizabeth S. Olson, PhD

Elizabeth S. Olson, PhD

Research Interest

Research Summary

The cochlea, the auditory inner ear, receives the auditory stimulus, which has been transduced by the middle ear from acoustic pressure to fluid displacement at one of the cochlea’s windows, and converts it into a spike code in the auditory nerve.  Within the cochlea, the auditory stimulus is sorted by frequency along the long, narrow strip of sensory tissue that spirals within the snail-shaped bony capsule of the cochlea.  The frequency sorting is fundamentally achieved by the basic physics of the sensory tissue — stiffness of the tissue and inertia of the fluid, which produces a displacement and pressure wave that travels from the cochlea’s input window to the deepest locations along the cochlear spiral, peaking at frequency-dependent locations.  Molecular forces within the sensory hair cells that line the sensory tissue boost the wave’s amplitude by factors of many hundreds, and sharpen the frequency resolution.  This active boosting is termed the “cochlea amplifier.”  My lab studies how the cochlear amplifier works, with measurements of nanoscale sensory tissue motion, hair cell electrical responses, and intracochlear pressures, at frequencies up to and above 50 kHz.  A second area of focus is the development of an implantable microphone for a totally implanted cochlear implant, using a piezoelectric polymer as the pressure-sensing element.  We collaborate with Barnard and Columbia faculty in Biochemistry and Electrical Engineering, and  Engineering and Neurophysiology groups in the US and the UK.  

  • B.A. Physics, Barnard College 1981
  • PhD. Physics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1988
  • Post-doc, Biomedical Engineering, Boston University
  • Post-doc, Biology Department, Rutgers University
  • PhD, Physics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology


  • Olson ES and Nakajima HH 2015 “A family of fiber-optic based pressure sensors for intracochlear measurements”, Proc. SPIE 9303. 
  • Kale S and Olson ES 2014 “Intracochlear pressure measurements in scala media inform models of cochlear mechanics”, Proceedings of the Mechanics of Hearing Meeting, Cape Sounio Greece, 23 – 28.
  • Bergevin C and Olson ES 2014 “External and middle ear sound pressure distribution and acoustic coupling to the tympanic membrane” J.Acoust.Soc.Am.135: 1294-1312.
  • Decraemer WF, deLaRochefoucald O, Funnell WRJ and Olson ES 2014 “Three-dimensional vibration of the malleus and incus in the living gerbil” J. Assoc. Res. Otolaryn. 15:483-510.
  • Kale S, Cervantes VM, Wu MR, Pisano DV, Sheth N and Olson ES 2014 “A novel perfusion-based method for cochlear implant electrode insertion” Hearing Research. 314:33-41.
  • Kelso CM, Watanabe H, Wazen JM, Bucher T, Qian ZJ, Olson ES, Kysar JW and Lalwani AK 2014 “Microperforations significantly enhance diffusion across the round window membrane” Otology and Neurotology 36: 694-700.
  • Olson ES 2013 “Fast waves, slow waves and cochlear excitation”  Acoustical Society of America, Proceedings of Meetings on Acoustics, Vol 19, No 1.
  • Dong W and Olson ES 2013 “Detection of cochlear amplification and its activation” Biophysical Journal 105: 1067-1078.
  • Dong W, Varavva P and Olson ES 2013 “Sound transmission along the ossicular chain in common wild-type laboratory mice” Hearing Research 301: 27-3.
  • Huang S, Dong W and Olson ES 2012 “Subharmonic distortion in ear canal pressure and intracochlear pressure and motion.” J. Assoc. Res. Otolaryn 13: 461– 471.
  • Olson ES, Duifhuis D and Steele CR 2012 “von Bekesy and cochlear mechanics” Hearing Research 293: 31-43.
  • Dong W, Decraemer, WF and Olson ES 2012 “Reverse transmission along the ossicular chain in gerbil.” J. Assoc. Res. Otolaryn. 13: 447– 459.
  • Shera CS, Olson ES and Guinan JJ 2011 “On cochlear impedances and the miscomputation of power gain.” J. Assoc. Res. Otolaryn.12: 671– 676.
  • Huang S and Olson ES 2011 “Auditory nerve excitation via a non-traveling-wave mode of basilar membrane motion.” J. Assoc. Res. Otolaryn.12: 559 – 575.
  • Eze, N. and Olson, E.S. 2011 “Basilar membrane velocity in a cochlea with modified organ of Corti.” Biophysical J. 100: 858-867.
  • de La Rochefoucauld, O. , Kachroo, P. and Olson, E.S. 2010 "Ossicular motion related to middle ear transmission delay in gerbil" Hearing Research on-line.
  • Dong, W. and Olson, E.S. 2009 “In-vivo impedance of the gerbil organ of Corti at auditory frequencies.” Biophysical Journal 97: 1233 – 1243. PMCID: PMC2749745
  • Dong, W. and Olson, E.S., 2008 “Supporting evidence for reverse cochlear traveling waves.” J.Acoust.Soc.Am.123: 222-240.
  • de La Rochefoucauld, O. and Olson, E.S. 2007 “The role of organ of Corti mass in cochlear tuning.” Biophysical J. 93: 3434-3450. PMCID: PMC2072075
  • Olson, E.S. 2001 “Intracochlear pressure measurements related to cochlear frequency tuning.” J.Acoust.Soc.Am. 110: 349 – 367.
  • Olson, E.S. 1999 “Direct measurement of intracochlear pressure waves.” Nature 402: 526-529.
  • Auditory Prostheses 
  • Otolaryngology (55)