Scientists design a cheap device that can detect ear problems with the help of a smartphone

“They just seem to be in it to improve access to care, which is a refreshing, refreshing perspective.”

On a chilly October evening a decade ago, physician Michael Cohen arrived at Boston’s Logan International Airport lugging a hefty contraption, built like a tiny tank, that immediately drew the attention of airport security officers. It was a device to detect ear problems, and he and a colleague were hauling it around the globe — first on a redeye to Frankfurt, followed by Khartoum, and then on to Addis Ababa.

The device — called a tympanometer — was too pricey for many health care providers worldwide to afford on their own, so Cohen, an otolaryngologist at Massachusetts Eye and Ear, was shuttling it to colleagues in Ethiopia.

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