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Extra info for [Magazine] Scientific American. Vol. 268. No 4

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DiÝerences vary with frequency; they were measured for six kilohertz in this case. Combining the two graphs (e ) deÞnes each location in space. When an owl is exposed to a particular pair of diÝerences, it quickly turns its head in a predictable direction (photograph). o learn how the brain carries out binaural fusion, we had to examine the brain itself. Our research plan built on work Knudsen and I had completed several years earlier. We had identiÞed cells that are now known to be critical to sound location.

Such a device was operated for the Þrst time Þve years ago by our group at ENS. Atoms pass through a cavity tuned to half the frequency of a transition between two Rydberg levels. Under the inßuence of the cavity radiation, each atom is stimulated to emit a pair of identical photons, each bringing half the energy required for the atomic transition. The maser Þeld builds up as a result of the emission of successive photon pairs. The presence of an intermediate energy level near the midpoint between the initial and the Þnal levels of the transition helps the two-photon process along.

We can, after all, make sense of sounds quite well with a single ear. One task, however, requires input from both organs: pinpointing the exact direction from which a sound, such as the cry of a baby or the growl of a dog, is emanating. In a process called binaural fusion, the brain compares information received from each ear and then translates the diÝerences into a uniÞed perception of a single sound issuing from a speciÞc region of space. Extensive research has shown that the spatial cues extracted by the human brain are diÝerences in the arrival time and the intensity, or force, of sound waves reaching the ears from a given spot.

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