Visiting PhD Students at Hearing Systems

In 2015, The Hearing Systems group had two new visiting PhD students: Rachel Bou Serhal from Université de Quebec, Montréal in Canada and Arturo Moncada-Torres from KU Leuven in Belgium.

As part of the Erasmus Mundus Auditory Cognitive Neuroscience (ACN) Network, Rachel Bou Serhal, electrical engineer, wanted to come to Hearing Systems, Elektro at DTU.
Why did you choose to come all the way to Denmark and Hearing Systems at DTU?
“DTU is definitely well known in our field, and Ewen MacDonald’s [Associate Professor, DTU] research aligns very well with what we are trying to do. So it is the perfect exchange. In the ACN network there are several partners we can collaborate with, and I researched each of them. When I got to DTU it seemed like the best fit because of our research. I’m an electrical engineer, and a lot of the auditory cognitive network is mostly psychology,” Rachel says.

Radio acoustical environments
In Rachel’s project she works on developing a radio acoustical environment.
“It’s a communication device used in noisy environments that combines both hearing protection and communication without hindering the performance of one for the other,” she explains.
Usually these devices provide either really good hearing protection or really good communication. Rachel and her research group are trying to have both equally good by creating a natural acoustical environment. “We pick up speech from inside the ear, denoise it, enhance it, and then send it only to a specific range of its listeners, based on the speaker’s intended communication. This can be possible by coding the individual vocal effort and trying to find a relationship between the vocal effort, the background noise level and the intended communication distance while wearing hearing aids, “she explains.

Hard core engineering backbone
Arturo Moncada-Torres is a biomedical engineer and comes from KU Leuven in Belgium but origins from Mexico. He is visiting the Hearing Systems group as a part of his PhD project within his ICanHear framework (Improved Communication through applied Hearing Research):
“Here at DTU, they have a very strong engineering background and also a lot of experience with mathematical modelling of the hearing system in general. So I think it fits perfectly with the objectives of my project. In Leuven, the lab is a lot of combination between engineering and audiology which is also a very good approach; but particularly for my project, I think it is also good to have this ‘hard core engineering backbone’. It’s a perfect place, and the faculty has been really helpful and welcoming,” he says and adds:
“The ICanHear project is really nice because you get the financial support, which is of course important, but you also get a chance to have an interaction with the different partners of the network. For instance Leuven (BE), Technical University of Denmark (DK), the University of South Hampton (UK) the University of Bochum (DE) and the University of Zürich (CH). The idea is to have this mobility of researchers across Europe mainly."
Is it a fixed period?
“It’s actually quite flexible. You just have to decide it between the fellow, in this case me and my supervisor, and the institution that wants to host you. It’s very open. In my case we decided to split it into two. This is the first part. I will go back to Leuven after a couple of months and work with what I have developed here and put it into practice. Then the idea would be to come back later this year for two or three more months,” he says.

Percieving bineural sounds
Arturo’s project is about how we perceive binaural sounds with different auditory implants. Only a few years ago one Cochlear Implant (CI) seemed to be enough to help a hearing impaired person. Lately we have found out that perception is much better if a person receives two CI (bilateral stimulation) but you can also have a CI combined with a hearing aid (bimodal stimulation). The idea of Arturo’s project is to get a computational model of how either bilateral or bimodal participants perceive sound. In this way, instead of having to do his measurements on hundreds of test persons to see what their responses are, his computer model will mimic the responses of people and in this way be able to get an approximate result of how it would be in real life.
Both visiting students have been in Denmark for about a month now.
How is it being part of the Danish culture?
“I’m a biking enthusiast, so it’s great being able to get around in Copenhagen where the cars are so respectful towards the bikers. It might take longer to get close to a Dane than in Montréal. But when it happens it’s genuine,” Rachel says with a smile.
“I have been in Europe for almost four years and visited a lot of places, but never had the chance to visit the Scandinavian countries. I really like it here. It’s also surprising, how the European cultures change completely within a few kilometers. The languages, the traditions, the food, everything. And I like the research group. People are nice and there’s a real good atmosphere,“ Arturo says.