The Professions’ Youngest Researcher Gets His Break at Convention A 12-year-old middle school student crunches his father’s data on aging voices—and, though not yet ready for first authorship, presented the results. In the Limelight
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In the Limelight  |   December 01, 2014
The Professions’ Youngest Researcher Gets His Break at Convention
Author Notes
  • Carol Polovoy is assistant managing editor of The ASHA Leader. cpolovoy@asha.org
    Carol Polovoy is assistant managing editor of The ASHA Leader. cpolovoy@asha.org×
Article Information
Special Populations / Older Adults & Aging / Speech, Voice & Prosody / In the Limelight
In the Limelight   |   December 01, 2014
The Professions’ Youngest Researcher Gets His Break at Convention
The ASHA Leader, December 2014, Vol. 19, 22-23. doi:10.1044/leader.LML.19122014.22
The ASHA Leader, December 2014, Vol. 19, 22-23. doi:10.1044/leader.LML.19122014.22
Name: Ethan Hunter
Title: Seventh-grade student, Haslett Middle School, Haslett, Michigan
Name: Eric Hunter
Title: Associate professor, Michigan State University, East Lansing

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Left: Ethan Hunter shares his research data at the Michigan Speech-Language-Hearing Association convention. Right: Eric and Ethan (then 4 years old) Hunter display the voice dosimeters both wore for Eric Hunter’s research.
Visitors to the 2014 ASHA Convention poster displays may have done a double-take when they saw and heard a talk on age-related voice changes. It wasn’t the research that caught them off guard—it was the 12-year-old presenter.
Remarkably, the ASHA convention was not Ethan Hunter’s first professional conference. He presented his research at a symposium hosted by the Center on Aging at the University of Utah and at the Michigan Speech-Language-Hearing Association annual convention.
So … how did Ethan get involved in voice research? And, perhaps the even bigger question: why?
Ethan’s foray into the world of research began when he was a preschooler. His father, Eric Hunter—a Michigan State University communicative sciences and disorders associate professor—was wearing a dosimeter to measure vocal fold vibration for his research. Ethan, then 4, thought it was “cool,” and asked to wear one as well.
“I mean, I was a kid, and it was a computer,” Ethan says. “Also, my dad was and is my role model, and I would do anything to be like him.”
Ethan’s interest didn’t wane after the novelty of the device wore off. “I was surprised that he remained interested in gathering data,” Eric Hunter said. “For three years—pre-K, kindergarten and first grade—he wore a dosimeter for several days at a time.”
Eric Hunter researches biomechanics of speech articulators, biomechanical models of the vocal system, muscle mechanics and muscle models, signal processing, and occupational voice use—specifically examining elementary and secondary school teachers to quantify the vibration exposure of voice tissues from vocalization and the recovery of those tissues.
Fast-forward to 2013, when Ethan needed to complete an independent study project for his fourth-grade class. “My dad’s research interests me because he is using a computer as a tool to answer questions about the voice, while most people use computers for entertainment,” Ethan explains. “I like to use technology to solve problems.”
As Eric Hunter explains, “I was just beginning some new research on the aging voice, specifically looking at a collection of speeches given by a man who had been a church leader. Using longitudinal rather than cross-sectional data, I am trying to better understand how a voice changes with age and to correlate these vocal changes with changes in swallowing and breathing.”
For his fourth-grade project, Ethan chose to do some basic analysis of voice pitch over multiple decades, using the recorded speeches of one of Hunter’s study participants. Hunter thinks that Ethan’s year in successful speech-language treatment for stuttering when he was about 5 may have piqued his interest in voice/speech research.
But the project fell flat, Ethan says, because “The kids and the parent judge didn’t understand my project. So when my dad asked me if I wanted to present it at the aging conference [at the University of Utah], I was a little nervous. But when I started presenting, people asked me real questions about the project and they understood what I was trying to say.”
At the aging conference, “I had my own research to present,” Hunter says, “so Ethan was left alone to talk about his. I caught some of it, though, and he did an amazing job, better than many of my students would have.”
Ethan added a bit more analysis to the project and presented at the Michigan association convention in March, where—once again—he fended for himself. When faced with some difficult questions from people interested in his presentation, he was able to think through their questions and give solid responses.
“Vocal Fatigue and the Aging Voice,” the ASHA convention poster presentation, expands the project further. It analyzes speeches from six people over the course of an average of 28 years each.

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Ethan Hunter analyzes data in preparation for his 2014 ASHA Convention poster presentation.
“Between various camps this past summer, Ethan would come and spend the day at the university in the lab and work on the analysis,” Hunter said. Ethan added the voices of five more people, and included several new parameters Hunter’s lab has been developing.
“My son loves this stuff,” Hunter said. “He loves using science and computers to solve problems. This past summer, he wrote several Excel macros to manage some of the data, move it around and format files. He also gets a rush out of public speaking. So this type of thing gives him the opportunity to combine those two things that he really enjoys.”
Ethan confesses to getting nervous before he speaks, and even after. “But once I start talking,” he says, “I don’t feel nervous anymore. I think I get an adrenaline rush from it. I like the butterflies-in-my-stomach feeling.”
When he’s not working in his father’s lab, Ethan goes to middle school, plays trumpet and piano, reads computer and science magazines to learn about computers and programming, bikes, shoots hoops, builds forts, plays video games, and writes computer programs. He’s also a Boy Scout—working on his Eagle rank—and participates on a Vex Robotics team.
So what’s going to happen to his research? “I know my dad is going to write a paper using this data and some other data,” Ethan says. “But I don’t think I’m ready to write a paper yet.”
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December 2014
Volume 19, Issue 12