While the rest of us may be intrigued by the chirps and tweets of birdsong, Rebecca Curry is more interested in how the birds are hearing. Her curiosity has led to a recent grant from the National Institutes of Health that will support her research as a graduate student in the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology at NEOMED.
Curry’s end goal is to provide a deeper understanding of sound processing, which could inform new technologies to help patients with hearing loss or cochlear implants. To get there, she is studying the mechanism of how a bird processes sound as a general model of hearing.
Ask Curry about her research, titled “Cellular Mechanisms of Binaural Hearing Neurons in an Avian Interaural Level Difference Circuit,” and she will tell you about sound localization—the process by which humans sort out the tangle of sounds that they hear.
“When you hear a sound, your cochlea will tell you the frequency and how loud it is but not where it is coming from,’’ she explains. “Our brain compares what it hears in the right ear with what it hears in the left ear to figure out where the overall sound is coming from.’’
For this research study, Curry will work at the cellular level to discover how brainstem neurons process information and encode sound location in birds.
Historically, researchers have relied on birds as a scientific model because they have an elegantly simple auditory system, yet still share many features with mammals, says Curry. This makes researching certain questions much easier, which leads to greater insight into how sound is processed by humans.
Rebecca Curry holds a B.A. in neuroscience from Kenyon College. A fourth-year graduate student, she works in the lab of Yong Lu, Ph.D., associate professor of neurobiology.