Nima Mesgarani and Team Win 2021 Misha Mahowald Prize for Neuromorphic Engineering

January 26, 2022

Prof. Nima Mesgarani is part of an interdisciplinary team that won the 2021 Misha Mahowald Prize for Neuromorphic Engineering. This year the prize was shared by two teams of researchers. Prof. Mesgarani's team used technology to find new ways to help hearing-impaired persons focus attention on individual speakers in a noisy environment, such as a cocktail party.

"Our study represents a conceptual advance in the field," Prof. Mesgarani said. "Instead of using traditional ways of representing an audio signal, we proposed a different way that removes many inherent problems of the old method."

Conventional hearing aids work by augmenting all sounds at once, producing a cacophony of noise for device wearers in crowded scenes that can make it extraordinarily difficult for the hearing-impaired to follow or participate in conversations. In contrast, cognitive hearing aids automatically separate out the voices of multiple speakers in a group and then compare each voice to the brain waves of the person wearing the hearing aid. The speaker whose voice pattern most closely matches the listener's brain waves, a sign that this is the person that the listener is most interested in, is amplified over the others. Dr. Mesgarani first detailed this method to deduce which sounds the brain listens to in a study in 2012.