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13-Year-Old Proves Hand Dryers Are Dangerous for Children's Hearing With Published Research Paper

After Nora Keegan spent three years studying whether hand dryers hurt children's hearing, she's published her research in a scientific journal.

When she was nine years old, Nora Keegan noticed that many children didn't want to use hand dryers and would often cover their ears around them. She understood from personal experience why they would have this reaction, observing that "sometimes after using hand dryers my ears would start ringing." In the fifth grade, she decided to investigate the topic further for a science fair project and started studying "if they were dangerous to hearing." Three years later, the now 13-year-old Mighty Girl from Calgary, Canada has just published the results of her multi-year study in a scientific paper in the Paediatrics & Child Health, the premiere Canadian pediatric journal. In it, she concludes that "children who say hand dryers 'hurt my ears' are correct" since, as she discovered through her research, many hand dryers operate "at levels that are clearly dangerous to children’s hearing."

To collect data for her project, Nora recorded decibel readings from bathrooms in places kids frequent, like schools, libraries, malls, and restaurants. "It was quite a fun adventure," says her mother, pediatrician Susan Bannister. "We would just get in the car and drive all over." Nora says that it was immediately obvious that dryers were much louder at child height, which was particularly concerning because children's ears are more sensitive to noise damage. She also observed that "[when] my hand accidentally passed into the airstream flow, the decibels shot up a lot. So then I decided to make that another part of my testing method."

Manufacturers provided noise ratings for their dryers which were below the Environmental Protection Agency's 85 decibel limit for child hearing safety and the Canadian federal government's 100 decibel peak loudness limit for children's products. Nora discovered, however, that the industry standard was to measure the sound at a distance of 18 inches from the wall which she considered inadequate for children. In addition to measuring noise levels at the standard 18 inches, Nora also took measurements at 12 inches since, she explains, "I thought the children might stand closer because their hands and arms are shorter."

Nora found that all hand dryers were louder in practice than when tested in the lab, and two models in particular — from Dyson and XCelerator — reached 110 decibels or more at their peak. "This is very loud," Nora says, "around the level of a rock concert." According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), there is no safe duration of unprotected exposure to sounds over 111 decibels for adults, and hearing loss is possible within less than two minutes.

Nora presented her findings at both her 5th and 6th grade science fairs, and the judges encouraged her to take her study even further: "A few of them said to me that I should write a paper." The end result has impressed many adult scientists. "I read a lot of studies in this realm, and, honestly, it’s super well written," says Frank Wartinger, an audiologist at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. To Nora's surprise, her paper also received praise from Dyson, who invited her to meet with its team. "We are keen to show Nora how our latest hand dryers are significantly quieter... thanks to research and development by our in-house acoustic engineers," they wrote in a statement. "Perhaps she will want to join the team one day?"

Eager to find a solution to the noise problem, Nora has tinkered with a homemade noise dampener, and her prototype reduces noise levels by 11 decibels. "I think I might go and talk to the manufacturers and also I might go and talk to Health Canada," she says. "Even though this is a study, it's still only one study. So it'd be better if they tested more hand dryers and found more about that loudness of hand dryers." Although in the long term, she's thinking of a career in marine biology rather than engineering, she says the lessons she learned with this study will stand her in good stead. "I’ve learned to never give up, because if I had given up then it would never have come to this," she asserts. "And also, I’ve learned that if you see something that you question, you should go for it and don’t stop."

Books About Science-Loving Girls and Women

I Wonder

I Wonder

Written by: Annaka Harris
Illustrated by: John Rowe
Recommended Age: 4 - 8

Every scientific discovery began with two works: "I wonder." In this beautiful book, Eva and her mother take a walk and explore some of the mysteries of life: how gravity works, why things live and die, and even how big the universe really is. Along the way, Eva learns that it's okay to say, "I don't know" — and that some mysteries are out there, still to be discovered by curious minds like hers! This book is a wonderful way to remind kids that there's no such thing as too many questions.

11 Experiments That Failed

11 Experiments That Failed

Written by: Jenny Offill
Illustrated by: Nancy Carpenter
Recommended Age: 4 - 8

Any scientist can tell you that, for every experiment that works, there are an awful lot of missed steps! This hilarious book actually teaches the scientific method — complete with hypotheses, experimental methods, and conclusions — as the book's irrepressible narrator decides to explore questions like "Can a kid make it through the winter eating only snow and ketchup?" and "Can a washing machine wash dishes?" Fortunately, while these particular experiments may not turn out well, this eager young scientist knows it's only a matter of time until she gets one just right.

Ada Twist, Scientist

Ada Twist, Scientist

Written by: Andrea Beaty
Illustrated by: David Roberts
Recommended Age: 4 - 9

Young Ada is full of boundless curiosity, so when her house fills with a toe-curling smell, she's determined to track down the cause. Not afraid of failure, she embarks on a fact-finding mission and conducts scientific experiments, all in the name of discovery. But, this time, her experiments lead to even more stink and get her into trouble! Fortunately, Ada and her supportive family realize that it's always worth asking "why", even if only leads to more questions. This title by the author of Rosie Revere, Engineer reinforces the importance of perseverance captured in that book, as well as celebrating a love of science and a burning desire to learn. Fans of this title can also check out Ada Twist's Big Project Book for Stellar Scientists.

Dragons and Marshmallows

Dragons and Marshmallows

Written by: Asia Citro
Illustrated by: Marion Lindsay
Recommended Age: 6 - 9

Zoey has made an amazing discovery: magical animals show up in her backyard when they need help — so it's up to her to help them feel better! This time, it's a sick baby dragon she names Marshmallow. With her beloved cat Sassafras, Zoey will use the scientific method to learn enough about her patient to treat him, including testing if Marshmallow is warm or cold blooded; herbivore, carnivore, or omnivore; and much more. This first book in a new early reader chapter book series is a fun blend of fantasy and real-world science. Fans of this book can follow Zoey's further adventures in the rest of the Zoey and Sassafras series.

Marty McGuire Digs Worms!

Marty McGuire Digs Worms!

Written by: Kate Messner
Illustrated by: Brian Floca
Recommended Age: 6 - 9

Marty McGuire's third-grade class has a challenge: find ways to save the Earth! And Marty's sure her idea — composting leftovers from the cafeteria with the help of some hungry worms — will win the grand prize. But worms take a long time to work, and when they manage to escape, the whole class is mad with Marty. She'll have to recapture the worms, maintain her friendships, and learn a little patience if she wants to reach her goal. Any kid who's found that "simple" experiments are harder than they seem will appreciate Marty's frustration, as well as her pride when her lowly little worms work just as they're supposed to.

Ada Lace, On The Case

Ada Lace, On The Case

Written by: Emily Calandrelli
Recommended Age: 6 - 9

Third grade scientist and inventor extraordinaire Ada Lace is trying to solve the mystery of a missing dog! Ada thinks her homemade gadgets and her knack for scientific thinking will allow her to crack the case, while her neighbor Nina has has her own theory about the missing dog (involving alien abduction, of all things.) As Ada and Nina get closer to the solution, though, they'll also discover that opposites can make for the best of friends. This new series from Emily Calandrelli, host of Xploration Outer Space and MIT graduate, provides a scientifically-minded detective series that young readers will love. For more of Ada's adventures, visit our Ada Lace Collection.

The Complete Franny K. Stein, Mad Scientist Box Set

The Complete Franny K. Stein, Mad Scientist Box Set

Written by: Jim Benton
Illustrated by: Jim Benton
Recommended Age: 7 - 10

This young mad scientist is determined to take over the world — but before she does, she'll have to perfect her methods! This imaginative (if a bit maniacal) girl explores areas from cloning to time travel over the course of the seven books collected in this fun box set. Plentiful illustrations make this series a treat for young readers, and they'll giggle to see the predicaments Franny gets herself into! Throughout it all, they'll appreciate that it's Franny's intelligence and ingenuity that saves the day. Fans of Franny will be delighted to check out her latest adventure in Bad Hair Day.

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

Written by: Jacqueline Kelly
Recommended Age: 9 - 13

11-year-old Calpurnia is curious why the yellow grasshoppers in her yard are so much bigger than the green grasshoppers. But it's Texas in 1899, and girls are supposed to devote their time to proper activities like needlework, not tromping through the grasses studying bugs. Still, Calpurnia recruits her grandfather, an avid naturalist, to help her figure out the mystery. As the pair grows closer, Calpurnia dreams of becoming a scientist, even as it becomes more obvious how difficult that will be for a girl in her time. This book will give tweens new perspective on the challenges that faced female scientists in the past. Calpurnia's story continues in The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate, while readers age 6 to 9 can check out the early chapter book series Calpurnia Tate, Girl Vet.

Women in Science

50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World

Women in Science

50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World

Written by: Rachel Ignotofsky
Recommended Age: 9 and up

This charmingly illustrated and educational book highlights the contributions of fifty notable women to the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics from the ancient to the modern world. Full of striking, singular art, this fascinating collection profiles well-known figures like primatologist Jane Goodall, as well as lesser-known pioneers such as Katherine Johnson, the African-American physicist and mathematician who calculated the trajectory of the 1969 Apollo 11 mission to the moon. Women in Science celebrates the achievements of the intrepid women who have paved the way for the next generation of female engineers, biologists, mathematicians, doctors, astronauts, physicists, and more!

Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science – And The World

Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science – And The World

Written by: Rachel Swaby
Recommended Age: 13 and up

Learn the often neglected stories of women in science with these 52 engaging capsule biographies! Spanning centuries of courageous thinkers, author Rachel Swaby celebrates women whose specializations range from biology to physics to engineering, from famous names like Sally Ride and Ada Lovelace to lesser-known women like Stephanie Kwolek and Chien-Shiung Wu. While each individual's biography runs for only a few pages, Swaby has done an impressive job of conveying the essence of each scientist's life and work into the profiles, while her light tone urges readers to learn more about each of these groundbreaking women.

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