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Study finds increased risk of inner ear infection from headphones

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article image The overall winner of this year’s inaugural Science for Growth Awards, Aki Flame from Newington College in Stanmore, New South Wales, investigated the link between frequent ear phone use and inner ear infections
A study carried out as part of the inaugural Science for Growth Awards sponsored by Dow AgroSciences Australia has found increased risk of inner ear infections from frequent use of ear phones.
Continued use of ear phones has been found to significantly increase microbial growth in the inner ear canal, potentially increasing the risk of inner ear infections. The finding comes following a scientific investigation carried out as part of the inaugural Science for Growth Awards by Year 10 Newington College student, Aki Flame, who was named overall winner.
The Science for Growth Awards is an initiative of the Primary Industry Centre for Science Education (PICSE), and sponsored by Dow AgroSciences as part of their commitment to attract young people into future careers in agricultural science. The 2012 awards were open to all Year 9 and 10 students in New South Wales and Queensland, ahead of a national launch next year.
According to Dr Matt Cahill, Dow AgroSciences’ Research and Development Leader, Australia and New Zealand, Aki’s investigation topic was quite contemporary and backed by well researched scientific methods, logically presented argument and sound conclusions.
Dr Cahill also explained that the overall aim of the awards was to reverse the trend of a declining number of young people studying science at higher school certificate and at a tertiary level. For an organisation such as Dow AgroSciences, attracting students to study science at a tertiary level is critical for ensuring ongoing research and development into their food and fibre industries.
Aki’s teacher, Rukevwe Bateren agrees with Dr Cahill that significant effort must be made to engage high school students in science. According to Rukevwe, the awards worked in perfectly with the curriculum, which required all Year 10 students to undertake an independent student research project.
Sixteen-year-old Aki, who lives in Stanmore, New South Wales, and has attended the school since he was in Year six, was surprised to win the award with the $500 prize money a welcome bonus.
Aki came up with the idea after noticing a number of his schoolmates continually getting ear infections. He surveyed students from Years seven to 10 on their use of earphones, gathering data on the average time they listened to music with inner earphones, whether they shared them and if so, with how many people.

He then selected a group of students who used earphones for six hours a day and conducted swabs of their ears and the left earpiece of the earphone. Samples were cultured in Agar plates at 33ºC for 72 hours for microbial growth assessment. The study supported his hypothesis that outer earphones were safer than inner earphones.
Aki hopes that his study will encourage peers to clean their earphones more regularly. He also hopes that the results might also encourage some innovators to develop safer earphones, which allow the user to enjoy a higher quality of music delivered via inner earphones, while providing enough ventilation to prevent microbial growth.
PICSE’s Science Education Officer, Anna Paice said she was thrilled with the level of support from teachers in both states, and was looking forward to the national launch of the awards in 2013.
First, second and third prizes were also awarded to students in New South Wales and Queensland.
New South Wales state winners:

  • Anita E-Tobaggi from Our Lady of Mercy College, Parramatta for an investigation into how much CO2 is found in different soft drinks
  • Vanessa Agius from Our Lady of Mercy College, Parramatta for an investigation into the effect of different music genres on plant growth
  • Shaun Villata from Marian Catholic College, Griffith for an investigation into the impact of Seasol on the number and speed of lawn seed germination
Queensland state winners:

  • Rachel Rognoni from Centenary Heights State School, Jindalee for an investigation into the kinds of distraction that most effectively increased pain tolerance
  • Laura Robson and Ashley Muller from Prosperine State High School, Prosperine for an investigation into the interaction of air friction and gravity on projectile trajectory
  • Daniel Patava from Centenary Heights State High school, Jindalee for an investigation into how to alter the reaction rate of the chemical process that occurs between hydrogen peroxide and detergent
In assessing the winners, the judges, who included a mix of representatives from Dow AgroSciences and PICSE employed a set of standard criteria including the use of the scientific method within the report, the standard and relevance of the visual presentation, the student’s oral presentations to the judges and the effectiveness of the written communication using text, graphics and summaries of student reports. The shortlisted students were interviewed by video conference, so they could take questions from the judges.
Dow AgroSciences Australia supplies a range of insecticides, herbicides, fungicides and speciality chemicals for the agricultural industry.

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