The Future of Hearing

Coordinator: Dr. Dorothe Poggel (HWK)


Prof. Dr. Georg Klump and Prof. Dr. Dr. Birger Kollmeier, University of Oldenburg

Period: 2014 – 2017

The Focus Group “The Future of Hearing” has been established in close collaboration with the Cluster of Excellence “Hearing4All”. This cluster, coordinated by Prof. Dr. Dr. Birger Kollmeier, has the goal to develop an etiology-based individualized treatment for patients with hearing deficits. To reach this goal, Hearing4all combines neurophysiological, psychophysical, and modelling studies to provide for a better understanding of the sensory deficits that will lead to a better treatment. 

The Focus Group “The Future of Hearing” helps to pursue this goal by assembling consortia for workshops each focused on a specific topic. It is a dynamic Study Group with special emphasis of three different research topics during the funding period, each represented by renowned scientists who are former Fellows of the HWK (see below). The Study Group at the HWK will host one workshop per year. These workshops will focus on the discussion of unsolved key research questions and provide the agenda for advancing our knowledge in hearing research. A series of talks by leaders in the specific fields (including up to four invited international speakers) will provide the basis for the discussions. The audience contributing to the discussions will include a number of early stage researchers from the cluster of excellence Hearing4all. In addition to setting the stage for the future research, the workshop will thus provide a component of training of PhD students and postdoctoral fellows. 

Focal topic in 2014: Sound Localization

Represented by: Prof. Dr. Daniel Tollin, University of Colorado, former HWK-Fellow

Workshop “Stretch it, morph it, bend it, break it: Insights into the mechanisms of sound localization from normal, developmental, comparative, computational and hearing impaired studies”

June 23-24, 2014

Organizers: Prof. Dr. Georg Klump and Prof. Dr. Daniel Tollin (HWK Fellow)

The ability to accurately localize sounds is critical for normal communication in everyday environments (e.g., classrooms). Knowing where sounds of interest, such as speech, are coming from helps us to focus on those sounds and effectively ignore competing sounds (i.e., noise).  While sound localization and verbal communication in noisy reverberant environments is quite effortless in normal hearing listeners, this crucial ability becomes compromised in listeners with hearing loss, listeners that use hearing aids and cochlear implants, and in developing children with temporary and mild hearing impairments.  Additionally, sound localization abilities vary considerably across the animal kingdom.  Yet despite over a century of study we still don't know exactly how even normal hearing people/animals localize the sources of sounds from a neurophysiological perspective, and this lack of knowledge limits our ability to provide effective solutions for hearing impaired listeners.  One possible way to overcome this knowledge gap may be to consider how natural and unnatural perturbations affect sound localization behavior and the underlying anatomical and physiological mechanisms.  If we can determine how the auditory system is altered by systematically perturbing it in some way then we might be able to more precisely determine how the normal auditory system functions, which may in turn yield clues how to most effectively treat impaired auditory systems. Towards this goal, the 2014 Sound Localization Workshop explored several different ways that sound localization systems have been perturbed, from normal hearing in complex environments, developmental studies (‘stretch it’), deprivation studies (‘bend it’), studies of hearing-impaired subjects (‘break it’, cochlear implants and hearing aids), across-species comparative studies (‘morph it’) and computational studies.  

Through this Workshop we hope to begin to provide answers to several questions including: What is the current state of the field of sound localization?  What do we know and what do we not yet know?  What are the controversial and disputed issues?  A goal of this Workshop is to identify the large gaps in our knowledge regarding the mechanisms of sound localization.  

International speakers:

John Middlebrooks (University of California-Irvine), Catherine Carr (University of Maryland, former HWK Fellow), Steve Colburn (Boston University, former HWK Fellow), Andrew Brown (University of Colorado).

Oldenburg speakers:

Birger Kollmeier, Georg Klump, Volker Hohmann, Steven van den Par, Mathias Dietz, Rainer Beutelmann

Focal topic in 277: Hearing Devices 

Represented by: Prof. Dr. Bernhard Laback, Austrian Academy of Sciences, former HWK-Fellow

Workshop “Binaural Hearing and Hearing Devices”

June 21 -24, 277

Prof. Dr. Bernhard Laback(HWK Fellow) and Prof. Dr. Dr. Birger Kollmeier

In the second year of the study group, the focus will be on research on the mechanisms and ecological advantages of binaural hearing, on respective consequences of hearing impairment and cochlear-implant hearing, and on the development of strategies for future hearing devices to compensate for deficits in binaural hearing. 

The workshop will focus on perceptual/ psychophysical aspects as well as on signal processing and physiological aspects of hearing devices. The goals of the workshop are 

  • to identify key problems in perceiving binaural cues in impaired hearing, combining psychophysical and physiological evidence. While focusing on peripheral hearing impairment, the role of central auditory processing will also be considered. 
  • to identify major technical limitations with current hearing systems (hearing aids, cochlear implants) in transmitting binaural information. 
  • develop strategies to bundle international research efforts towards solving the key problems.

Confirmed speakers: 

Bertrand Delgutte, Phil Joris, John Middebrooks, Ruth Litovsky, Bernhard Seeber, Mathias Dietz, Tom Francart, Volker Hohmann, Simon Doclo, Sascha Spors, Giso Grimm.  

Focal topic in 297: Temporal Aspects of Neural Responses in the Auditory System

Workshop “The Role of Temporally Patterned Neural Responses in Auditory Perception”

June 22 - 24, 297

Organizers: Prof. Dr. Laurel H. Carney (HWK Fellow) and Prof. Dr. Georg Klump

Temporal patterning of neural responses to complex sounds are hypothesized to play a critical role in conveying the information in speech, music, and environmental sounds, both in quiet and especially in noisy backgrounds. These patterns include both the representation of temporal fine structure and the slower fluctuations associated with the envelopes of complex sounds. This workshop will comprise a series of presentations that provide state-of-the-art information about the origins of temporal patterning in the auditory periphery and transformations of these patterns along the ascending neural pathways. We will also hear about implications of temporal patterning of neural responses for understanding animal behavior and human psychophysical performance, for listeners with normal hearing and hearing loss. Finally, recent applications of ideas concerning temporal patterning to speech processing and hearing-aid strategies will be presented.

Specific topics:

  • Effects of cochlear tuning and nonlinear mechanical, transduction, and neural mechanisms on the representation of sounds in low-frequency neural fluctuations, at many levels of the auditory pathway.
  • Influence of phase/fine structure on neural fluctuations – e.g. interactions between fine structure and envelopes, resulting in the low-frequency fluctuations that drive CNS neurons that are sensitive to periodicity.
  • Implications of the properties of neural fluctuations for understanding behavioral/psychophysical sensitivity, and efferent control of the periphery by the CNS.
  • Applications to speech processing, especially for listeners with hearing loss. 

Confirmed Speakers:

Mathias Dietz, Stephan Ewert, Miriam Furst, Benedict Grothe, Kenneth Henry, Volker Hohmann, Philip Joris, Andrew King, Birger Kollmeier, Christine Köppl, Tobias Moser, Elizabeth Strickland, Steven van de Par