Calgary teen's Oxford-published research on hand dryers wins Ontario science prize

What started out as a school science fair project in Grade 5 has now landed a Calgary teen a second-place prize and $8,500.

'I think this is just incredible, I’m still in shock'

Nora Keegan stands next to her research on hand dryers in this file photo from 2019, when she was in Grade 8. (David Keegan)

What started out as a school science fair project in Grade 5 has now landed a Calgary teen a second-place prize and $8,500.

The Ontario Science Centre recently announced the 2020 winners of the Weston Youth Innovation Award. It celebrates teens aged 14 to 18, who use science, technology and innovation to make changes in their communities.

Fourteen-year-old Nora Keegan from Calgary won the prize for her research on the decibel levels of hand dryers in public washrooms and the risks it presents to children's hearing.

Keegan first started the project a few years ago at age nine, when she was in Grade 5. She used a decibel meter and measured the noise at different heights and different distances from the wall. Her research was published last year.

Over the course of her research, she also noticed the decibel meter shot up when her hands passed through the airstream, so she added that as a measurement in the data she was collecting.

Eventually, Keegan determined that there are two hand dryer models in particular that are harmful for children's ears: the Dyson and XCelerator, which both operate at about 110 decibels. Health Canada has regulated that no toys operate at more than 100 decibels.

Keegan's results were published in the Paediatrics & Child Health, an Oxford University Press journal.

"It just seems crazy, I never thought that I would actually win," she said.

"It's a problem that not many people are aware about and I thought by publishing my research then it would raise awareness and maybe manufacturers would make their hand dryers quieter."

Keegan even went to Dyson headquarters in England where she spoke with engineers about the company's products.

"They were a bit shocked but they also have a new hand dryer now that I measured and at children's height. It's ... [around] 85 decibels. So it's not perfect for children's ears but it's a lot better than 100 decibels," Keegan said.

Her school also changed the hand dryers in its washrooms.

"I think this is just incredible, I'm still in shock," she said.

In the future she wants to pursue a career in science, especially in marine science.

She said she's saving her prize winnings for university.

With files from CBC Calgary's The Homestretch


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