An air compressor pump had an unusual but important role to play in recent research funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The study, carried out by Dr Christina M Karns and colleagues at the University of Oregon, looked into the differences in how deaf and hearing people process sight and touch in their brains.

Previous research has indicated that deaf people’s brains may develop differently, so that parts usually used in hearing become incorporated into the other senses.

In this study, an air compressor pump was used to produce silent puffs of air, which were blown against each participant’s face, while at approximately the same time a brief flash of light was produced within their field of vision.

Among deaf participants, when one flash of light and two puffs of air were produced in close succession, the subject claimed to have seen two visible flashes – an effect not witnessed among the hearing participants.

“This research shows how the brain is capable of rewiring in dramatic ways,” says Dr James F Battey, director of the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, part of the NIH.

It also highlights some of the more unusual, but equally important uses that air compressors are put to on a daily basis, outside of the usual industrial applications that you might expect.