April 7, 2017. On Tuesday, April 4, 2017, we were honoured to judge a specialty prize at the PEI Science Fair, the “Listen To This” Award, which comes with a $25 prize. This is presented annually to a student whose project best demonstrates awareness of hearing loss and associated issues, in an effort to encourage young scientists in the making to consider issues of concern to the hard of hearing.
This year, the award went to Grade 6 Parkdale Elementary School student Mariana Reyes Mejia for her project “Can Shapes Be Produced By Sound?” Mariana’s project tested whether one could actually see sound. The project drew upon the principle of cymatics (the study of periodic and symmetrical patterns caused by vibrations). Using a PVC tube and pipe, with a balloon for a membrane that went over the tube, she poured salt onto the balloon. Experiment in place, she made various sounds over the other end of the tube. With sound, the balloon vibrated, and the salt formed different shapes. To her delight, she was able to prove that shapes could be produced by sound, and found that the best frequency for seeing shapes was at higher sound frequencies,” notes Mariana.
You may be wondering what this project has to do with hearing loss. Modern pocket talkers, technological tools to help amplify sound for the hard of hearing, have a tone function in which sound can be altered to resonate at a higher or lower frequency, depending on the hearing loss one has. Mariana’s project is a simplified version of this. She found that shapes were best seen at higher sound frequencies. Similarly, changes in frequency can make hearing more audible.
There is lots of potential for innovative scientific studies on hearing loss, and Mariana’s project could be enlarged upon and studied further. Did you know that, according to the Stats Canada 2012 and 2013 Canadian Health Measures Survey (CHMS), 20% of adults aged 19 to 79 years had at least mild hearing loss in at least one ear? Hearing loss is more common as we get older, and results show that 47% of those 60 to 79 having hearing problems. (See http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/82-625-x/2015001/article/14156-eng.htm).