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CRI Research Collaboratory seminar - Pauline Provini

CRI Research Collaboratory seminar - Pauline Provini

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How bird biomechanics can help to produce more efficient vocal prosthetics ?

Pauline Provini - CRI Research

We share remarkable similarities with birds. Among them, bipedalism and complex language are two traits often seen as human specificities, yet also present in birds. In my project, I want to focus on birdsong to build a new generation of vocal prostheses. Patients suffering from an advanced stage of laryngeal cancer often have to undergo a total surgical removal of the larynx, which is the human voice source. Our voice is used to communicate but also defines our identity. Thus, a voice alteration or a complete speech loss can cause emotional and social issues. To recover the ability to speak, a prosthesis, mimicking the vocal folds, is usually placed between the trachea and the oesophagus. The exhaled air crosses a vibrating element and produces a substitute voice. Unfortunately, the created voice is of poor quality: it is weak, with a low fundamental frequency. In addition, the limited lifetime of the devices, due to biofilm coming from mucus/material interactions, forces a frequent device replacement. To date, there is no voice prosthesis lasting more than 3 months and able to reconstruct a natural-sounding human voice. In this context, birds should attract attention. First, their vocal repertoire is incredibly diverse, with pitch spanning from 100 to 12 000 Hz, compared to only 85 to 255 Hz in human speech. Moreover, the unique structure of their vocal organ, the syrinx, allows the production of sounds from the vibration of membranes, located in the wall of the syrinx. Thus, unlike in mammals, the air is flowing through the vocal tract without crossing any structures. The accurate biological and physical experimental data I want to gather will feed a predictive aero-acoustic model to understand cause-effect relationships between shape, motions, and produced sounds in birds. It will provide the necessary elements to design and prototype more durable and efficient prostheses, which will produce voices that will sound more humane.