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Hear, hear!

Student innovation protects hearing and earns invitation to engineering competition

An upcoming competition showcasing the nation's top student inventors will include a team of two students at the Thayer School of Engineering. Rebecca Wang, a master of engineering management candidate and Kay Kochan, an exchange student from Germany, will be in San Diego on March 19th to participate in the ninth annual "March Madness for the Mind" competition hosted by the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center and the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance (NCIIA).


A high-performance active noise reduction (ANR) module prototype, designed to protect against Noise Induced Hearing Loss. (photo by Alex Streeter)

This competition spotlights new work by 14 of the nation's top teams of student scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs. Wang and Kochan will exhibit a high-performance active noise reduction (ANR) module designed to combat noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL), and Kochan will present his work on open-space ANR.

More than 20 million Americans suffer from NIHL. High noise levels pose a serious threat to factory workers, emergency personnel, military personnel and others who work for long periods in noisy environments. The cost of care and compensation for military personnel with NIHL alone exceeds $300 million per year.  It is the largest defense-related disability expenditure. The Dartmouth team has devised an ANR module that contains input channels from microphones, output channels to a speaker, a digital signal processor and software for implementing active noise control algorithms.

The goal of ANR is to reduce the amplitude of the sound pressure level incident on the receiver, or ear, by actively introducing a secondary, out-of-phase acoustic field. The resulting destructive interference pattern reduces the unwanted sound.

Development of this project was supported by a grant from the NCIIA, a non-profit organization committed to supporting invention, innovation and entrepreneurship in higher education. The Dartmouth team holds a prestigious spot as one of the select teams asked to present their inventions at this year's event.

"These exceptional teams of young innovators represent the future of technology innovation," said Phil Weilerstein, executive director of the NCIIA. "They are taking exciting ideas from lab to market as part of their education and benefiting from a new orientation in higher education that gives students the opportunity to be successful innovators in today's dynamic, collaborative workplace."

The Dartmouth faculty advisor to the project is Associate Professor of Engineering Laura Ray.  Ray teaches courses in control theory, dynamics and computer-aided design and analysis.  Her research on communication and hearing protective systems takes an interdisciplinary approach, drawing on fields including psychoacoustics, bone conduction physiology, signal processing and the design of novel sensors for noise control and nonlinear adaptive control mechanisms.

By CATHARINE LAMM

Questions or comments about this article? We welcome your feedback.

Last Updated: 12/17/08