Nora Keegan, a 13-year-old from Canada, had a question: Do hand dryers hurt children's hears? She decided to investigate, and ended up getting her study published in the journal Paediatrics & Child Health.
For more than a year, Keegan traveled around Calgary, her hometown, investigating and measuring hand dryers in public restrooms. Her quest began because of personal reasons — she noticed early on that her own ears hurt after using hand dryers.
"I found that sometimes after using hand dryer my ears would sting and I also noticed that lots of kids in washrooms were covering their ears and not wanting to use hand dryers," Keegan told USA TODAY. "And I thought maybe the kids aren’t just being oversensitive, the hand dryers are being really loud. So then I decided to do a study."
Keegan first looked online to see if hand dryer companies disclosed how they measured noise estimates for their products. They didn't, so she proceeded to take things into her own hands.
Keegan went to several bathrooms that children frequent and collected a total of 20 measurements per hand dryer. She found that many dryers were much louder than their companies claimed, exceeding 100 dBa, which is the loudest noise level Canada allows for toys. At 100 dBa, hearing loss is possible after 14 minutes.
Keegan said the experience has taught her to keep on trying, no matter the obstacle.
"I've learned just to keep on going and try hard and persevere," Keegan said.
David Keegan, Nora Keegan's father, said accompanying her on her hand dryer-testing adventures was "fun and wild."
"It was cool to see her determination to get this out there," David Keegan said.
David Keegan said he and his wife have loved helping Nora Keegan pursue her scientific passion.
"I think any parent is thrilled to be able to support kids following their passion," David Keegan said. "I’m really impressed with the work she did on this, and we’re really proud of her."
Editor of Paediatrics & Child Health Joan Robinson said the fact that Nora Keegan's study was clear and concise, coupled with its originality, led her to accept it. Robinson said it's beneficial for younger people to investigate scientific questions.
"Younger people tend to think outside the box," Robinson said. "They have a different point of view, and so different things stem from that. They have way more potential."
Lauren Durinka, a pediatric audiologist at Nationwide Children's Hospital, said Nora Keegan's focus on hand dryers was not something she'd thought of before. She said she was impressed by the points Nora Keegan made about how companies test hand dryers.
"It is definitely not something that I have ever thought about," Durinka said. "And I think she brought up a really good point, because you just expect that these companies are doing their due diligence and testing their products, but they also test them in rooms that aren’t public bathrooms."
Durinka also applauded Nora Keegan raising awareness about hearing loss in children, saying that especially in a noiser, more technological world, noise exposure can affect hearing longterm.
"I think it’s great younger people are paying attention to that, this is not something that just happens to old people, it happens to kids too," Durinka said. "Being aware of how loud sounds may damage their hearing is really important."
Nora Keegan said she wasn't sure if she would continue work on the topic, but that she wants to be a scientist when she gets older. The feeling of seeing her work being published after four years of work was amazing, she said.
"It was really incredible especially because I’ve been working on this for more than a third of my life," Nora Keegan said. "It was an absolutely incredible feeling."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 13-year-old girl gets study published: Do hand dryers hurt kids' ears?