Faculty Name:
Skyler Jennings

Communication Sciences & Disorders

Faculty College:


Project Description:

**This project is a part of the Summer Program for Undergraduate Research (SPUR), which provides undergraduate students with an intensive 10-week research experience under the mentorship of a University of Utah faculty member. SPUR 2021 begins on May 26 and ends on August 5. If you are interested in this project, please review all program information on the SPUR site. If you wish to apply to this project, you must apply using the SPUR 2021 application.**

Although current hearing devices improve listening in quiet environments, they do little to improve speech understanding in noisy backgrounds. The long-term goal of this research program is to fully understand the relationship between auditory perception and physiological mechanisms responsible for adapting to the local soundscape. The objective of this particular application is to understand the role of the medial olivocochlear (MOC) reflex in the perception of fluctuating sounds and on speech-in-noise performance in normal hearing and hearing impaired listeners using perceptual, electrophysiological, and auditory modeling techniques. The central hypothesis of the proposed research is that cochlear hearing loss limits the ability of the MOC reflex to regulate cochlear gain, thus preventing the putative perceptual and neural benefits associated with the reflex. The rationale of the proposed research is that a detailed description of the influence of the MOC reflex on human auditory function has the potential to translate to a better understanding of why hearing devices provide little benefit to improving speech-in-noise performance in hearing impaired adults. This detailed description will be obtained by completing the following specific aims: 1) Determine the role of the MOC reflex in the detection of temporal fluctuations and the identification of speech syllables in noise; 2) Determine the effect of eliciting the ipsilateral MOC reflex on the compound action potential (CAP) in human subjects with and without cochlear hearing loss; and 3) Simulate the influence of the MOC reflex on auditory function in listeners with and without cochlear hearing loss.

Opportunity Type:

This is a paid research position

Student Role:

Student research assistants will participate in the design, execution, analysis, and publication of research. Primarily responsibilities will include running and documenting data collection sessions, summarizing data collected in table and figures, summarizing research findings in reports written to the lab manager, and reviewing/discussing pertinent literature on the project. Data collection for evoked potentials experiments will involve measuring electrical potentials from the brain and the cochlea in human participants via passive electrodes placed on the high-forehead and eardrum. Data collection for perceptual experiments will involve working with a customized graphical user interface in Matlab to quantify the sensitivity of human participants to specific features of sound. Remote Contingency Plan: An arm of my research involves predicting human perception and physiology using a computational model of the auditory system based on neurophysiological studies in laboratory animals. Simulations are conducted remotely through resources at the Center for High Performance Computing (CHPC). I have a backlog of model simulations that need to be completed. After my Summer 2020 SPUR project was cancelled, the Office of Undergraduate Research offered me the opportunity to work with an undergraduate student through UROP, provided that I could engage the student in a high-quality remote research experience. The UROP student and I worked remotely on model simulations over the summer and have continued our collaboration this Fall. Recently, [the UROP student] was invited to present his work at a Zoom meeting with experts in auditory models. Our success shows that a student can be easily shifted from the primary project to a modeling project when face-to-face mentoring is not possible. The student can access CHPC resources and run the model simulations from a computer web browser. In addition to running the simulations remotely, I have found that consistent virtual meetings, an electronic notebook (through LabArchives), and directed readings result in a quality research experience for the student despite the inability to meet face-to-face. If the proposed research is not possible, my contingency plan is to reassign the SPUR 2021 student to a model simulation project.

Student Benefits:

At the completion of this research experience, the student will: understand neural mechanisms underlying auditory perception, understand the anatomy and physiology of auditory reflexes, understand principles of auditory evoked responses, understand how to measure and quantify auditory perception, master techniques for measuring auditory evoked potentials, master techniques for measuring auditory perception, gain or improve on a working knowledge of Matlab programming, gain or improve on the analysis of electrical and acoustic signals in time and frequency domains, deepen skills on critically evaluating research.

Project Duration:

35-40 hours per week on research and program-related activities, begins May 26, 2021, and ends August 5, 2021

Minimum Requirements:

Admission to the program is competitive. Applicants must meet all of the following criteria: 1) be a matriculated, degree-seeking undergraduate student in the Fall 2021 semester (beginning or continuing college career in Fall 2021 and not graduating before December 2021; concurrent enrollment while in high school does not meet this eligibility requirement). Applicants do not need to be a University of Utah student. 2) eligible to work in the United States: If you are a University of Utah Dreamer (with or without DACA), you are eligible to participate. If you are a Dreamer from a different institution: If you have DACA, you are eligible to participate. If you do not have DACA, you are able to participate and gain research experience, but might not be able to be compensated. For more information, please contact Megan Shannahan at megan.shannahan@utah.edu or 801-581-2478. If you are an international student or scholar, you must either a) be a degree-seeking undergraduate student at an American institution of higher education and verify with your institution’s international center that your visa allows you to participate in this program, OR b) possess documentation that establishes your eligibility to work in the United States (if you hold US citizenship, it is likely you have these documents). 3) able to commit to approximately 35-40 hours per week of employment at the University of Utah for the entire duration of the program (May 26-August 5, 2021). 4) at least 18 years old by May 24, 2021 (required if you wish to use on-campus housing; preferred if you will not be using on-campus housing). Please note that no previous college coursework or previous research experience is required.