Mentor Name:
Skyler Jennings

Mentor Position:
Associate Professor

Communication Sciences and Disorders



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 2022 begins on May 25 and ends on August 4. 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 2022 application.**

The objective of this research is to understand the temporal processing of the human auditory nerve and brainstem, which forms the neural foundation upon which hearing is mediated and declines in older adults with normal hearing and hearing loss. Despite the use of hearing devices (hearing aids, cochlear implants), adults with hearing loss struggle to communicate in noisy backgrounds. A similar difficulty is often reported by older adults with normal hearing. This communication difficulty contrasts with the ease at which younger adults with normal hearing communicate in similarly noisy environments. Currently, our understanding of temporal processing comes primarily from studies of animal hearing. We expect that improved understanding of human temporal processing will lead to the creation of neural-based diagnostic tests of impaired hearing, and the development of signal processing algorithms in hearing devices that successfully address real-world listening difficulties.

Our approach is innovative because we will provide a multi-angled, data-driven perspective on temporal processing by simultaneously recording cochlear and brainstem potentials, and simulating auditory nerve potentials with a computational auditory model. Further, we will evaluate the effects of auditory reflexes and other feedback systems on auditory temporal processing by measuring the time course of cochlear and brainstem potentials in response to background noise. This innovation is significant because real-time adjustments in temporal processing are expected to facilitate listening in noisy backgrounds and such adjustments may be limited in older adults with normal hearing and 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 tables 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.

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 masker 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 25, 2022, and ends August 4, 2022

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 2022 semester (beginning or continuing college career in Fall 2022 and not graduating before December 2022; 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. U Dreamers with DACA will be hired and paid through U payroll. U Dreamers without DACA who graduated from a Utah high school will be compensated via a different mechanism. If you are a Dreamer from a different institution: If you have DACA, you are eligible to participate and will be hired and paid though U payroll. If you do not have DACA, you are able to participate and gain research experience, but we do not currently have a mechanism that allows us to compensate you. 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 the University of Utah, 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 25-August 4, 2022). 4) at least 18 years old by May 23, 2022 (required if you wish to use on-campus housing; preferred if you will not be using on-campus housing).