Cochlear Explorers – Part VIII – Space of Nuel

Robert Traynor
July 29, 2023

This week’s installment of Hearing International’s tribute series to Cochlear Explorers features Jean-Pierre Nuel (1847-1920), an esteemed ophthalmologist and physiologist from Luxembourg and Belgium.

His Seminal Cochlear Research

While a medical student, Nuel studied the auditory organ during a summer research term in Germany. He published meticulous descriptions of the cochlea’s interior in 1872, focusing on nerve fibers and the intricate links between sensory hair cells and supporting cells. Nuel took issue with contemporary depictions he deemed inaccurate, providing superior renderings showing the fluid channels surrounding hair cells.

Most notably, Nuel granted more autonomy to phalangeal extensions radiating from Deiters cells. Unlike his peers, Nuel visualized these links as traversing at angles to contact hair cells up to two positions away. He also clearly detailed the vestibular spaces separating hair cells from adjacent pillars and Deiters’ cell appendages. Such minute delineations of the Organ of Corti architecture later proved uncannily predictive when microscopy techniques improved.

Space of Nuel indicated by arrow. Image credit Britannica, inc

His Background and Eventual Renown

So who was this man that peered deeper into the cochlea than perhaps anyone before him? Jean-Pierre Nuel came from humble beginnings as one of eleven children born in 1847 in Luxembourg. After earning his medical degree in Belgium, Nuel built expertise in ophthalmology and vision physiology while still a young practitioner.

Yet his innate curiosity spurred deeper investigation into the hearing organ’s form and function as well. Nuel embraced opportunities to study in Germany while expanding his medical training. Afterwards, he parlayed his keen senses and dedication to discovery into an esteemed career in medical academia.

Nuel held professor posts focused on sensory sciences, applying his burgeoning acumen to reveal new insights about hearing and sight. Though his fame stemmed from advances in ophthalmology, including seminal textbooks and surgical guides, Nuel furthered cochlear anatomy substantially for his time. His drawings and descriptions form the roots of knowledge about structures like the Space of Nuel that audiologists rely on today.


About the author

Bob Traynor - Co-Host, This Week in Hearing

Robert M. Traynor, Ed.D., is a hearing industry consultant, trainer, professor, conference speaker, practice manager and author.  He has decades of experience teaching courses and training clinicians within the field of audiology with specific emphasis in hearing and tinnitus rehabilitation. He serves as Adjunct Faculty in Audiology at the University of Florida, University of Northern Colorado, University of Colorado and The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.


**this piece has been updated for clarity. It originally published on July 29, 2014

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