Thursday, January 28, 2010

Lend An Ear For Science!

Today I lent my ear to science. Luckily for me, science gave it back.

I've been a bigtime fan of science ever since I read Isaac Asimov's Guide to the Sciences during Prayer Period at St. Edward's (which I justified to myself as learning about God's creation, or something. Reading books of prayer just put me to sleep, so this must have been more holy, or something. Just to be sure I didn't get in trouble, I always had a holy card bookmark ready to obscure the title, and I flicked through anything with equations, something which I still have an unfortunate tendancy to do, which was no help at all in college calculus. But I digress...)

Not having a head for science, I was happy to find a way I can contribute and also have a bit of fun: I volunteer as a health person in medical studies. The easiest way it to set my FireFox page scanner to alert me when there's anything new at University of Washington Health Sciences Research Studies Seeking Volunteers, although I've also done studies at a few other places, such as the local VA hospital.

Today I put in an easy hour at the UW Department of Speech & Hearing Sciences, basically being calibrated as a more-or-less healthy volunteer. I got a free hearing screen out of it, and they got another body (mine!) to dunk in their pool the next time they have a study. Everybody wins!

The screeners were a couple of graduate student (one enthusiastic young man, who vanished into an observation booth, and one cheerful young woman who was apparently learning how to do the screening under the gentle supervision of a motherly instructor. The instructor was probably about my age, yet I don't feel "fatherly"; some principle of General and Special Age Relativity is indicated.

The hearing screening consisted of listening for tones or spoken words through earphones. I found it very interesting that my instinctive reaction to tones different from that of to words; if I was not sure that I heard very faint tones, I basically didn't care but if it was a word that was just as faint, I felt disappointed if I could not interpret it into some word. It's irrational, but there you have it.

It was interesting observing the screener and the instructor work through a couple of problems that naturally arose (humans being nonuniform test subjects, and instrumentation being naturally perverse.) There were issues such as the proper equipment to use with ears so heavily laden with wax as mine, but the most interesting one involved the device that measured the something-or-other of my middle ear. It had some sort of plug for my ear opening, and getting a tight fit was complicated; I don't know whether my earholes are a nonstandard shape or what, but it was interesting to watch (or more properly, "hear") them work through the problem. I was especially intrigued when the instructor said, "This is for a reason I will explain later", since I will forever be wondering what the reason for what-ever-it-was may be. Perhaps I'll invent something and make a story!

At any rate, it was an hour well spent; I now have test results to take to my physician for a consult about a minor hearing loss in one ear at certain frequencies. I have the satisfaction of having contributed a tiny grain of sand to the edifice of health sciences. And I have the pleasure of encouraging you to lend your own ear, or other body part, to science!

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