Who got that job?

July 13, 2007

Rachel van Besouw

Research fellow, Institute of Sound and Vibration, Southampton University. Job advertised in The Times Higher, September 22, 2006 .

Researchers at the Institute of Sound and Vibration Research have given the gift of sound to more than 300 previously deaf adults and children.

The Southampton University team can restore hearing, or give it for the first time to those born deaf, by implanting a small electronic device into the cochlea, the small, snail-shaped component in the inner ear.

Rachel van Besouw has recently joined the team to further develop the software that translates sounds into the electrical signals for the implant, to help allow its users to enjoy music.

"Implant software is mainly geared to words and speech, so music perception is a neglected area," Dr van Besouw said.

"People with implants can't easily tell octave differences in pitch or distinguish a male from a female voice. I am particularly interested in enabling implant users to have a greater enjoyment of music."

Cochlear implants send sounds from a microphone worn on the ear to a small unit containing software that translates the sounds into signals sent to a receiver under the skin behind the ear. The receiver sends electrical signals to the implant in the cochlea and artificially stimulates the auditory nerve fibres.

"Most speech is processed by the software to focus on formants - sounds associated with vowels and other key elements of speech - and throw away the rest of the information," she said.

"For music perception, a quite different approach is needed, so I'll be working on coding strategies to determine the limitations of current implants. I'm really excited by the opportunities here that allow us to tap directly into the nervous system and get clues on how it works," said Dr van Besouw.

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