Student Research Opportunities
The Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory is a vibrant research facility with a long tradition of providing research opportunities at both the undergraduate and postgraduate levels. Student researchers come to ANL by a variety of channels, for example:
- as part of the Faculty of Science's Talented Student Program
- as advanced undergraduates in neuroscience and psychology undertaking semester research projects;
- as engineering students contracted for work experience;
- as students wishing to undertake an honours year in the Faculty of Science and,
- as visiting or resident postgraduates.
This last group is typically the most varied. Since the nature of our work is multidisciplinary, the lab actively cultivates collaborations with research groups at Sydney and other universities, as well as teams in the professional audio, hearing aid, and games industries. Consequently, we have been able to develop successful research programs not only with students from the School of Medical Sciences, but also those hailing from academic backgrounds as diverse as physics, music, psychology, biomedical engineering, audiology, computer programming, and even architecture.
Below are the two broad research areas for which we are currently accepting inquiries from interested students.
Auditory spatial perception and the cocktail party problem
Much of our research focuses on the so-called "cocktail party" problem. That is, how are we able to hear out a talker of interest from a noisy backdrop of other sounds competing for our attention? While this is a significant signal processing problem, it is not an effortful task for most people with healthy hearing. However, even mild hearing loss severely impairs an individual's ability to do this effectively, and the most advanced hearing aids are unable to confer much perceptual benefit in these conditions.
We take a multidisciplinary approach to the issue, blending bioacoustic and psychophysical methods with computational modeling to identify the cues which the healthy auditory system uses to selectively focus attention in acoustically lively environments. This includes the examination of a number of basic perceptual questions that have implications for the manner in which much of this information is processed and integrated with other spatial senses (vision in particular). Additionally, we are interested in the mechanisms by which the auditory system accommodates to changes in the inputs produced by age-related changes in ear shape and sensitivity. The outcomes of this research are informing the design of next-generation hearing aids.
Carlile, S. (2011). "Psychoacoustics." In The Sonification Handbook, T. Herman, A. Hunt, J.G. Neuhoff. Berlin: Logos Verlag GmbH.
McDermott, J.M. (2009). "The Cocktail Party Problem." Current Biology 19(22): R1024-1027.
Perception of auditory motion
Our sense of auditory motion can be induced either by the motion of our own bodies through an environment containing stationary sound sources, or by our ability to detect and track motion of the sound sources themselves. In most everyday situations, we encounter a complex mixture of both. ANL is currently conducting a range of bioacoustic and psychophysical studies that examine this little understood perceptual-motor capability. As this basic function is known to be degraded in individuals with certain neurological disorders, among them schizophrenia, this research also has implications for the development of a predictive clinical test for these illnesses. Our preliminary work has uncovered both surprising similarities to and differences with the way in which we perceive moving visual stimuli, thereby contributing to both integrated and differentiated models of spatial motion.
Do you have an idea that the above projects don't cover? If your interests align with the broad aims of the lab, consider dropping us a line, anyway. Our findings constantly push us in new directions.