School of Informatics and Computing faculty receive Google Research Award

January 4, 2011

Faculty at the School of Informatics and Computing are recipients of a $50,000 Google Research Award in support of their work exploring the semantic and cognitive value of non-speech sound.

The award will fund a one-year project using short but complex collages of sound effects and music – referred to as “audemes” – to supplement K-12 textbooks and develop audeme-based games for students at the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired.

Audemes and audeme sequences serve as powerful mnemonic prompts that leverage the innate human ability to recognize, remember and interpret the world as a “soundscape” of aural signs.

The one-year project is led by School of Informatics and Computing professors Steve Mannheimer, M.F.A., and Mathew Palakal, Ph.D. It builds upon three years of previous research with students at the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually-Impaired. That work, funded by a grant from the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust, found that audemes significantly enhance students’ ability to imprint and recall academic information.

The current Google-funded project engages students in further exploration of how sounds can combine to form new meanings with greater semantic richness than names or verbal labels. The Indiana School for the Blind and Visually-Impaired will continue to serve as a partner in the testing and evaluation of the research. Mannheimer and Palakal hope to incorporate their findings into a rich “audeme dictionary” of particular use to students whose primary sensory channel is auditory.

But the project may eventually have even broader applications. Mannheimer and Palakal believe that audemes and non-speech sound in general represent an under-utilized platform for cognition and interface design, especially as consumer technologies offer greater multimedia capabilities, handheld devices with small screens become increasingly popular for accessing information, and books, including student textbooks, evolve onto digital platforms.

Google Research Awards are a reflection of Google’s commitment to the support and development of new research and technologies emerging from university faculty. The awards are given annually to academic institutions and researchers worldwide pursuing innovative research aimed at improving information access.

Media Contact

Joanne Lovrinic