Prototype ‘gold box’ cochlear implant

Made by University of Melbourne in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, 1979.

This object, together with the prototype wearable speech processor, documents a critical step in the development of Australian research that has had continued impact around the world. This research, led by Dr Graeme Clark in the 1970s, formed the basis of Cochlear Ltd, an Australian company which became an international leader in the manufacture and sale of cochlear implant systems. By 2010 over 200 000 people in more than 100 countries had received the implant, which enables profoundly deaf peo...


Object No.


Physical Description

Prototype 'gold box' cochlear implant or bionic ear, mixed materials, designed and made at the University of Melbourne Department of Ear, Nose and Throat Surgery, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, 1979

Comprises a gold-coated stainless steel box containing electrical components (a sandwich of three razor thin sub-strata with silicon chips and thousands of transistors). Visible on top of the box is a red enamel-coated copper coil that forms the receiver. This has a carbon base back plate behind it. The package is coated in clear silicone, an electrode protrudes from the box and contains twenty electrodes of which ten were active. The reverse of the device is coated in white silicone incorporating a layer of Dacron mesh which was designed to help bind the device to the body and keep it in place inside the patient.


26 / 8AP / text ('illeg') stamped on the reverse of the implant



75 mm


32 mm


10 mm



This is the second version of the 'gold box' prototype multichannel cochlear implant, or receiver-stimulator, designed and made at the University of Melbourne Department of Ear, Nose and Throat Surgery, Melbourne, VIC, Australia, in 1979. Design and manufacture of this 'gold box' was undertaken by a group of people including Dr David Dewhurst and Ian Forster from the University's Department of Electrical Engineering and Jim Patrick from the Department of Ear, Nose and Throat Surgery.

This type of implant was developed for implantation in the second test patient George Watson on 13 July 1979. It does not have the 'connector' that featured on the first prototype implanted in Rod Saunders on 1 August 1978.


University of Melbourne 1979



This device was one of several prototypes of the same design made and tested at the University of Melbourne Department of Ear, Nose and Throat Surgery in preparation for implantation in the second test patient, George Watson, in 1979. This type of device was successfully implanted in George on 13 July 1979, and he was able to hear sounds and speech, proving the implant design and speech processing strategy.

However, early in 1980, George's implant failed and he could no longer hear. Two years later the implant was removed and analysis revealed a fundamental flaw in the design. The electrode wires had fractured where they emerged from the 'gold box'. Small movements from chewing and rubbing the skin had created metal fatigue at the point of stress concentration between the flexible wires and rigid box. This information was used to improve the design and testing of the implant that was then being developed by Nucleus for clinical trial in September 1982.

According to Professor Graeme Clark:

'There were a number (of these devices) made. They weren't all just individually hand crafted as the final product. We weren't mass producing of course they were made individually but they were all made according to the basic design, and fabricated as though they would work. Once they had been fabricated, say a few, that enabled us to test them individually to ensure that once (the whole system was) put together it would still work. It was being a bit careful to see that the design realisation worked for a few boxes.'

'So this was one of the few boxes made that were in a batch. It was tested to see how the radio signals would transmit through the materials, and for which frequencies, and would it get all the signals that we wanted through, and so on. It was a workable box.' *

*Professor Graeme Clark, Powerhouse Museum interview 6 Dec 2010


Credit Line

Gift of Professor Graeme Clark and the University of Melbourne, 2011

Acquisition Date

28 February 2011

Cite this Object


Prototype 'gold box' cochlear implant 2018, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 21 October 2018, <>


{{cite web |url= |title=Prototype 'gold box' cochlear implant |author=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences |access-date=21 October 2018 |publisher=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Australia}}
This object is currently on display in Experimentations at the Powerhouse Museum.

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