You might be able to hear the difference, but to many children and adults, these words sound exactly the same. The problem isn’t that they can’t hear the sounds. The problem is that they can’t tell them apart.
One in 20 children in kindergarten has difficulties understanding speech that are not related to hearing or problems with their ears. The reason is that speech discrimination is a problem solved in the brain, not in the ear. How does the brain process speech sounds? Very little was known, until now.
Enter Dr. Michael Kilgard and Crystal Engineer. Kilgard is a neuroscientist in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences at the University of Texas at Dallas. His lab is one of the few in the world that studies how individual neurons process speech stimuli. Engineer is one of Professor Kilgard’s doctoral students. Together they conducted a study to provide the first-ever description of how speech sounds are processed by neurons in the brain. This insight may offer a new approach to treating children with speech processing disorders.
Even the most renowned scholars and scientists can attest to how difficult it can be to get a study published in a top journal. The top journals in a particular field might reject up to 90 percent of submissions. The remaining papers must then go through a rigorous process of reviews and revisions.
As difficult as the process might be for faculty members, it’s even more so for students. A student study published in a prestigious journal is a rare achievement, but lightning struck twice in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences.
Two cognition and neuroscience Ph.D. students, Shveta Malhotra and Crystal Engineer, have studies published in the same issue of Nature Neuroscience
, the top research journal in the field of neuroscience. Both students’ studies provide a greater understanding of auditory processing in the brain.