Jonah Kohn, an eighth-grader at San Diego Jewish Academy is one of five finalists in his age group in the 2012 Google Science Fair. The competition drew thousands of entries from more than 100 countries.
Kohn will fly to Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., on July 21 to present his project to the science fair judges and compete for $100,000 in scholarships and other prizes.
His project, “Good Vibrations: Improving the Music Experience for People with Hearing Loss Using Multi-Frequency Tactile Sound,” has the potential to affect millions of people with hearing loss by enhancing their ability to enjoy music.
Kohn said his project, which also won first place at the California State Science Fair and placed first at the Greater San Diego Science and Engineering Fair, was inspired in a loud classroom where he and a friend were playing chords on a guitar, but couldn’t hear the music over the noise.
After experimenting, the boys learned they could hear the music clearly by placing their teeth lightly on the head of the guitar’s neck. “No matter how loud the classroom was, I could hear the guitar,” Kohn said.
When asked to come up with a middle school science project, Kohn connected his inability to hear the guitar to the experience of individuals with hearing loss and hypothesized that his experience hearing it by using his teeth might enable him to find a way for people with hearing loss to have a superior experience of music.
To conduct the experiment, Kohn built a device that converts music to vibrations and delivers them to users’ bodies. His test group consisted of people with normal hearing, cochlear implants and hearing aids.
The groups listened to both modern and classical music first with speakers only, and then with speakers in tandem with his device.
There was no effect on people with normal hearing, but the majority of subjects with hearing loss experienced a significant increase in their enjoyment. “Cochlear implant users experienced a 93-percent increase in their enjoyment of the music,” Kohn said.
According to the World Health Organization, 278 million people worldwide have moderate to profound hearing loss in both ears, which makes the implications of Kohn’s research quite impactful.
“I was surprised to make it to the regional top 90, and amazed to be chosen for the final 15. I feel very honored to be selected by judges who are top scientists from around the world and I’m excited to be a part of this competition,” he said.