ORNL Undergraduate Research Profile: Paul Turner
Hearing through another’s ears
Paul Turner, an undergraduate at Middle Tennessee State University, developed a Web-based tool that describes the inner workings of cochlear implants—an electronic, surgically implanted hearing device—as part of his Pre-Service Teacher internship at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Click image to enlarge.
You may have wondered how a person with an auditory or visual impairment hears or sees differently than you. Through a unique research project at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, one Middle Tennessee State University student sought to find those answers and make them available to the public.
MTSU senior Paul Turner is a physics major who plans to teach high school physics and mathematics someday, but he has a particular interest in acoustics.
At the beginning of his 10-week internship with ORNL, Turner expressed his interest in cochlear implants, which allow people with hearing deficits to process sounds. After hearing this, his ORNL mentor Mallikarjun Shankar, who has a son with a cochlear implant, encouraged Turner to make it his summer research project.
“The ultimate purpose of the project is to make a pedagogical tool to help people without auditory and visual deficits understand how these technologies work and how to implement new ideas,” Turner said.
To do this, he used auditory signal processing tools to learn how the cochlear implants perform and then began creating a Web-based tool for wider dissemination that will facilitate sharing this information with speech pathologists, families, teachers and classmates.
Although there is still much work to be done before the computer-based auditory or visual tools would be available to the public, the central idea is now there, Shankar said. As part of his undergraduate thesis at MTSU, Turner hopes to continue work on the project.
Shankar feels the project has helped him not only as a scientist but also as a parent, who now better understands his son’s hearing abilities.
This is exactly what Turner hopes to achieve through his research—helping parents, siblings, specialists and teachers, like himself, become familiar with what may be heard through these devices. Although hearing is a context-driven and individual-specific process, this is a step towards teaching and understanding the experiences of a person with a sensory deficit.
Turner was a participant in two programs at ORNL geared towards students seeking to become teachers in the fields of mathematics and science. The Pre-Service Teacher program, administered by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education, emphasizes inquiry-based education as a standard model of education. This science teacher and researcher program focuses on building teachers’ credibility by offering research opportunities that lead to application-based classroom teaching.
The summer programs not only involve research opportunities but also allow participants to attend lectures and seminars on science and education, giving all the students a chance to network with future teachers and scientists.
When Turner applied for his internship, he had only recently chosen education as a career. “Getting into and participating in this program helped solidify my decision to be a teacher,” he said. “Unfortunately, I can’t start tomorrow.”
Undergraduate Student Research Programs
- Community College Internship (CCI)
- Great Lakes Colleges Association/ Associated Colleges of the Midwest, Oak Ridge Science Semester (ORSS)
- Higher Education Research Experiences (HERE)
- Laboratory Technology Program (TECH)
- Nuclear Engineering Science Laboratory Synthesis (NESLS)
- Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internships (SULI)
- Volkswagen Distinguished Scholars