The first monaural stethoscope was invented by physician Rene Laennec in France in 1816. This small and sturdy device greatly improved the physician's ability to listen to internal body sounds. Monaural stethoscopes were used exclusively from c. 1820-1850, at which time the binaural stethoscope was introduced. This is a replica, produced in 1929 for the History of Medicine Museum in Toronto, of the earliest wooden model stethoscope.
Engaging with the Artifact
- How do you feel when a doctor examines you with a stethoscope?
- Have you ever listened through a stethoscope?
- How did doctors hear what was going on inside the body before the stethoscope was invented?
- In addition to hearing sounds in the body more clearly, what other advantages would a stethoscope provide? Think of the hygiene conditions in the 1800s or male doctors and female patients.
Relating Science and Technology to Society and the Environment
- Why is this tool called a “monaural” stethoscope? What are the differences between a monaural stethoscope and a binaural stethoscope?
- With all of the modern diagnostic technology available, do you think stethoscopes will soon become obsolete? Explain.
- How does a stethoscope allow a doctor to hear sounds inside a patient’s body?
- Create a flow chart which shows how sound waves travel from a person’s heart, through a stethoscope and into a listener’s ear.
- Using diagrams, show how sound travels through cylinders of different diameters. How does the diameter of a tube affect the pitch and loudness of a sound produced by the tube?
Nature of Technology
- Compare and contrast this monaural stethoscope to today’s modern stethoscopes.
- This stethoscope replica is made of wood. Why do you think stethoscopes are no longer made of wood?
- 3D print one copy of the artifact at its original size and shape. Modify one variable such as the length or width on the digital file (STL file on Sketchfab) and print the artifact again. Listen to someone’s heart through each of the 3D-printed stethoscopes and compare the sound quality (pitch and loudness).
- 3D print one copy of the artifact at its original size and shape. Change the shape of the tube on the digital file (STL file on Sketchfab) from a cylinder to a cone and print the artifact again. How does this change in shape affect the sound quality (pitch and loudness)?
Let's Talk Science is partnering with the Canada Science and Technology Museums Corporation to make these resources available to Canadian youth and educators.