Faculty Research Spotlight
Jeremy Donai, Ph.D.
Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders
An audiologist by trade, a speech perception and science researcher by nature; Dr. Jeremy Donai, Assistant Professor of the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders has made a swift transition from the work of clinical audiology: which primarily deals with diagnosing and treating hearing loss and balance problems, into a boundless field of hearing science research opportunities.
“I grew up not far from here, in Masontown, Pennsylvania, and as a kid my mom worked at Ruby Memorial Hospital as a nurse; so I was always in Morgantown and even though I didn’t grow up here, Morgantown has always been my home” said Donai.
In his undergraduate studies Donai graduated from the California University of Pennsylvania, for his graduate studies; Towson University, where he received his clinical doctorate of audiology. Thereafter, Donai worked as a clinical audiologist, then he segwayed into a clinical director position within an audiology clinic in Texas. At Texas Tech University, Donai graduated with the Dean’s Award for Excellence in Research from the Health Sciences Center with his Ph.D, there, Donai spent 2 1/2 years before country roads took him back home to West Virginia University.
At WVU, Donai teaches courses in anatomy and physiology and pyschoacoustics: the psychology of hearing. Donai’s course schedule includes classes such as amplification, hearing aids, and the audiology business practice class that directly relates to operating an audiology practice.
In 2012, he began his dissertation, the forefront of his current academic research: studying an understudied region of the speech signal.
“Speech signals are comprised of very high frequency information, so we’re looking at the ability to identify vowel signals, what vowel is being said and also what gender is producing that vowel. Is it a male or female speaking? We’re using information in the speech signal that we don’t typically think about as being important for specific tasks,” said Donai.
Donai is currently in the process of contributing his existing audiological manuscripts and research to academic journals such as the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America and Attention, Perception and Psychophysics, an official journal of the Psychonomic Society
“The research is fairly theoretical now because it doesn’t have an immediate direct clinical implication, but for the future it probably will. We know that children, if you extend the hearing bandwidth and give them more of these high frequency signals in what they’re hearing, they tend to learn language and novel words better. There are improvements in increasing the frequencies that they hear, so it does have implications potentially for children with hearing loss, even adults with hearing loss,” said Donai.
It is possible that Donai’s research will have positive implications for automated speech and speaker recognition.
“When you’re giving spoken commands to your phone or you’re doing something where you have to give a command and the computer has to recognize your speech; in noisy environments that’s very difficult for a system and the noise typically is concentrated in the low frequency region. Therefore the region that I’m working with isn’t as corrupted, distorted, or obscured by noise, so it could have potential implications for an automated speaker and speech recognition. There’s a great deal of research out there in the area that’s using more high frequency energy, the area that I am studying provides benefits for speakers and speech recognition by a machine,” Donai continued.
At Texas Tech Donai received an internal seed grant of $10,000 and a $1,000 award from the Texas Speech Language Hearing Association. Since then, he was awarded a $2,000 grant from the WVU Grace C. Clements Communication Sciences Research Scholarship.
“Three to five engineering students/lab personnel helped with programming for aspects of signal analysis,” said Donai. “At Texas Tech I collaborated with the engineering department and there I was able to hire an engineer to assist with the coding. The interdisciplinary aspects have linked me with the engineering folks, and that work has directly correlated with automated speaker recognition research. When it begins to have more practical implications, then forming collaborations with the engineering department would be very helpful and from there we can help make it more application based.”
In terms of potential applications, the benefits would be outstanding for the general scientific community to develop a greater understanding of information for the listeners, humans and machines, available in the high frequency region of the speech signal. Donai believes by studying this region for information, listeners will be able to gather more information from the frequency region than is currently known.
“I believe the work that I’m doing is extremely interesting and that it is going to have implications that add value to our knowledge of the speech signal. I think that ultimately it will enhance our understanding of the speech signal,” said Donai. “For a long time I felt like I was saying this and thinking well I don’t know if this is really the case, but there’s the work that I’ve done and the work that I’ve seen recently from other researchers that has supported my work, the research absolutely coincides.”
Donai’s existing research also includes a larger scale classification project, which will determine how well a speech recognition system might recognize signals that are void of traditionally studied content.
“We’re taking vowel signals produced by ten males and ten females, and we’re extracting features from them and filtering them to remove low frequency information. They are what we call high-pass filtered vowels, meaning that they contain only high frequency content, so we are doing a classification experiment on them to see how well an automated speech classifier can classify them when they only contain information that is thought to be unimportant,” said Donai. “The early data looks very promising.”
In the coming future Donai would like to participate in and publish as much academic research as possible. His overarching goal remains is to operate a productive research laboratory. “I really believe that producing quality research is most important and will be most beneficial to the University and influential to the field of audiology,” said Donai.