Prof. Nima Mesgarani Named Pew Scholar for Innovative Biomedical Research

Jun 22 2015 | By Jesse Adams | Photo: Ryan John Lee

Nima Mesgarani, assistant professor of electrical engineering, has been named a 2015 Pew scholar by the Pew Charitable Trusts. The prestigious honor was awarded this year to just 22 innovative early-career researchers in the biomedical sciences.

A member of Columbia’s Neurobiology and Behavior Program, Mesgarani investigates information processing of acoustic signals at the interface of engineering and neuroscience to better understand how the brain recognizes, processes, and decodes speech. He develops mathematical models for brain signals during sensation and perception of acoustic environments, reverse-engineering how the brain processes complex sounds to help machines emulate human abilities.

“It is an exciting time to be a neural engineer researcher,” says Mesgarani. “The Pew Scholarship will help me conduct innovative work that could enhance the quality of life for many suffering from various speech and communication disorders and help me expand my research team in order to develop advanced models of speech perception.”

Mesgarani will receive funding over the next four years from Pew to support interdisciplinary research spanning electrical engineering, neurophysiology, linguistics, and computational modeling to explore the complex neural networks involved in language perception and advance biologically-inspired speech recognition programs. The work could lead to new treatments to address a range of neuronal disorders from difficulty processing speech to sensory processing deficits.

Earlier this spring, Mesgarani and three colleagues from Columbia University Medical Center received a $2 million, five-year research project grant from the National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCH-NIH), part of the National Institutes of Health, for their innovative work that surgically implanted electrodes in epilepsy patients for a sophisticated recording and analysis of neural activity.

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