All Things Considered

14-year-old invents headphones that play music and treat ear infections

Leanne Fan's Finsen headphones is this year's 3M Young Scientist Challenge winner

This year's 3M Young Scientist Challenge winner Leanne Fan wears her Finsen headphones
Leanne Fan shows off her Finsen headphones, which make use of machine learning and blue light therapy.
Courtesy photo

14-year-old Leanne Fan from San Diego takes the top prize at this year’s 3M Young Scientist Challenge for creating headphones that not only play music but also detect and treat ear infections.

Fan calls them Finsen headphones after Niels Finsen, the scientist who discovered that ultraviolet light can be used to treat bacterial infections — the technology that Fan’s invention is based on.

Leanne Fan won this year's 3M Young Scientist Challenge
Leanne Fan explains the technology behind her Finsen headphones at the 3M Young Scientist Challenge.
Courtesy photo

With 700 million cases of mid-ear infections every year, Fan hopes that this can be an effective and low-cost treatment option for the thousands who are affected. According to Fan, the Finsen headphones could prevent up to 60 percent of hearing loss in children.

While its infection busting capabilities are impressive, Fan says her headphones are equally impressive at playing music.

And what does Fan like to listen to on her Finsen headphones? K-pop group BTS.

For more with Fan and her mentor, Dr. Ross Behling, listen to the full conversation using the audio player above.