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Rahul Shrivastav studies the meaning behind our voice

Kathryn Kao

October 19, 2015

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"What happens to a speaker's voice when something goes wrong?"

This seemingly simple question—which has the potential to affect the lives of millions of people around the world—may hold the key to detecting, diagnosing, or treating various laryngeal and neurodegenerative diseases.

For the past two decades, Rahul Shrivastav has been making considerable contributions to the field of communication sciences and disorders. The recently named vice president of instruction at UGA, who also joined the College of Education as a new faculty member after arriving from Michigan State University, is working on a five-year, $2.25 million research project sponsored by the National Institutes of Health.

Shrivastav's project seeks to develop ways to analyze and measure speech in ways that mimic human perception. To achieve this, his team simulates how acoustic signals interact with neurons in the brain to enhance measurements. By applying this extra biological piece in the analyses, Shrivastav hopes his measurements will reflect a more accurate description of voice quality changes in both children and adults.

As his study progresses, Shrivastav is interested in looking at other elements, such as how voices change during the aging process and how voice quality affects the way emotions are perceived or conveyed. More recently, his efforts have included analyzing speech changes in individuals with certain neurodegenerative conditions, such as Parkinson's disease. While Shrivastav is particularly interested in tracking how these diseases progress and respond to treatment, he hopes to also include early detection so doctors can predict the onset of the disease quicker using speech.

"I really hope a lot of the work we've done over the last 10 to 15 years solving some pretty deep-rooted problems can help us focus on translating our efforts so they become useable for everyday practice," says Shrivastav. "Seeing our work out in use will be the most exciting part."