San Diego Jewish Academy student wins at Google Science Fair

Jonah Kohn receiving his award at the Google Science Fair.

Eighth grade San Diego Jewish Academy (SDJA) student Jonah Kohn won his age group at the Google Science Fair, held July 23 in Pal Alto, Calif.

Jonah became one of three overall winners in the competition as decided by an elite group of judges that included Nobel laureate Ada Yonath and Stephen Myers, the scientist heading the CERN accelerator complex.

The Google Science Fair received thousands of entries from over 100 countries worldwide. Kohn’s project, “Good Vibrations: Improving the Music Experience for People with Hearing Loss Using Multi-Frequency Tactile Sound,” won first prize in the 13-14-year-old age group and has the potential to improve the enjoyment of music for millions of people with hearing loss. Kohn achieved this with a device that converts music into vibrations delivered to users using modules attached to their bodies.

The competition was challenging, but Kohn found it enjoyable and interesting. “Google made the competition fun and I made new friends. The hardest part was giving a presentation to the judges, who asked some challenging questions, but I calmed myself and concentrated on my answers,” said Kohn about his experience.

Vint Cerf, who is considered one of the founding fathers of the internet and was a judge in the competition, told a Scientific American magazine reporter that he became fascinated by a statement Jonah made in his presentation: that tactile sound could have an impact beyond music to illuminate how we perceive language.

“I suddenly realized that there are lots of different means by which we understand things, and there is not just a single medium, it’s not just voice but it’s what we see, what we hear, and, now, possibly what we feel. I wanted to just stop everything and go back to school,” said Cerf.

Kohn received a $25,000 scholarship and will enter the ninth grade in August at SDJA, a San Diego private school with a science program that has produced other high profile science competitions wins. “It helps when some of the older kids at our school have already won at science fairs,” said Kohn. “We’re all friends and it motivates you to try your best. I’m already thinking about what I’d like to do next year for my project.”