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Christian Sumner

Associate Professor

School of Social Sciences

Role

Chris Sumner is an Associate Professor of Auditory Neuroscience in the Department of Psychology. He has a background in engineering and has studied various aspects of how we hear.

Career overview

Chris has a PhD in Computer Science from Imperial College London, where he first became interested in how the brain processes sound. He conducted his postdoctoral research in The University of Essex and the University of Michigan. In 2004 he joined the MRC Institute of Hearing Research where he led a program of research into the neural correlates of auditory perception and the underlying computations. He joined NTU in 2019.

Research areas

Chris’ research focuses on understanding the neural computation underlying how we hear. He does this with a variety of methods, but often by building computer models (simulations) of neurons, neural systems, and machine learning models, with the aim of relating processing by single neurons to our perception of sound. He believes that this understanding is critical in order to tackle the problems associated with hearing loss.

Recent research interests include:

  • How the neural coding of sound is altered by hearing loss and how this might affect speech recognition in complex environments (e.g. cocktail parties).
  • How low-level sensory processing influences the coding and recognition of complex acoustic signals such as (but not limited to) speech.
  • The mechanisms underlying resolution of sound frequency in the auditory system, from the cochlea to the cortex, and perception.
  • Neural adaptation in the auditory system: mechanisms and perceptual consequences.
  • Audiovisual integration of speech.
  • Neural processing of acoustic cues for sound localisation.
  • Modelling the response of auditory nerve to cochlear implant electrical stimulation.

External activity

On-line Audiovisual Experiments - we are recruiting!

It is well established that seeing the face of a talker helps us to understand what they are saying. We all benefit from this, even if we are not aware of it. This is particularly important in noisy environments, and if you have hearing problems.

Although, the benefits of seeing a talker are well established, there are many things we do not know about how this "integration" of information from different senses operates. We are currently running a series of experiments investigating this further.

Coming soon!

Please watch this space for links to experiments. Experiments will bring with credits for NTU students, and cash vouchers for other participants.

PhD studentships –Deadline 14th January 2022

Expecting Thunderclaps then Lightning Strikes: How do we integrate sound and light in a complex world? SSS28

Hearing the sound of thunder after seeing lightning is an unusual percept. Most of the time our brain we perceive light and sound synchronously, even though light and sound travel at different speeds, and the senses process at different speeds. But determines when, for example we perceive speech and lip-movements to be out of sync? This project seeks to investigate how the nature of the sensory inputs (e.g. sudden like a bang or slowly like a car approaching), experience and prior information influence the integration (or not) of inputs from the different senses. This project will address these questions using a multidisciplinary approach; combining behavioural methods (psychophysics) to measure perception, brain imaging (electroencephalography; EEG) to uncover the underlying neural processing and Bayesian computational models to interpret these data.

Please contact darren.rhodes@ntu.ac.uk, christian.sumner@ntu.ac.uk and kate.roberts@ntu.ac.uk.

https://www.ntu.ac.uk/research/find-a-phd-opportunity/studentship-projects/expecting-thunderclaps-then-lightning-strikes-how-do-we-integrate-sound-and-light-in-a-complex-world

Improving hearing aid fitting: “Decoding” of naturally spoken speech from brain waves using machine-learning algorithms S&T77

Currently, hearing aids are set up by audiologists, by observing a subject’s behavioural response to quiet tones in silence (“Can you hear this sound?”). Alternatively, the electrical waves that emanate from the brain (electro-encephalography or EEG) can be used to evaluate hearing function. It is possible to “decode” how well the listener hears speech from EEG waves. However, the accuracy of current algorithms is limited, especially in realistic, noisy situations. This Project will investigate the use of Deep Neural Networks (DNNs) make decoding speech more accurate, allowing for automatic fitting of hearing aids and hearing function assessment.

Please contact frederique.vanheusden@ntu.ac.uk and christian.sumner@ntu.ac.uk.

https://www.ntu.ac.uk/research/find-a-phd-opportunity/studentship-projects/improving-hearing-aid-fitting-decoding-of-naturally-spoken-speech-from-brain-waves-using-machine-learning-algorithms-s-and-t77

Understanding how individual differences in hearing impairment and age impact on audio-visual speech perception (contact for funding options)

For the one in six people who struggle to hear and thus to communicate, being able to see a talker’s face provides additional information which boosts their ability to understand speech, particularly in noisy environments where hearing aids are often not of much help. However, the benefits of this are variable, not well understood, and little account of this is taken in healthcare provision.

This project will study how individuals vary in this process, with a view to characterising and understanding the benefits that individuals derive from visual cues to speech: with normal hearing, with impaired hearing and the influence of age. Advanced analysis methods and specially designed perceptual experiments will be used to understand these differences and the circumstances under which they vary. Ultimately, this may facilitate individualised treatment of hearing problems which accounts for and maximises communication as a multisensory process.

Contact: paula.stacey@ntu.ac.uk and christian.sumner@ntu.ac.uk.

https://www.findaphd.com/phds/project/understanding-how-individual-differences-in-hearing-impairment-and-age-impact-on-audio-visual-speech-perception/?p137259

UK Acoustics Network

The UK Acoustics Network is an EPSRC funded "Network Plus". It brings together >1000 academics and professionals from the acoustics related research and industry, for networking, collaboration and horizon scanning. The aim is to support and grow UK acoustics.

Chris leads the UK Acoustics Network Special Interest Group in Hearing  (https://acoustics.ac.uk/sigs/hearing-special-interest-group/).

Sung Tieu - In Cold Print

A team of scientists from NTU and led by Chris worked with artist Sung Tieu, to help her create stunning images of her brain, which were laser etched on stainless steel mirrors.

https://www.nottinghamcontemporary.org/whats-on/sung-tieu-in-cold-print/

Frontiers for Young Minds Collection: A World of Sound

To celebrate the International Year of Sound , Chris and several other UKAN members are bringing together a collection of articles about sound, aimed at young people, to appear in the journal Frontiers for Young Minds.  This collection will explore the many faceted science of sound: how humankind and other animals perceive it, its many uses, and the problems it can bring to us and the environment.

More details can be found at:

https://kids.frontiersin.org/collection/17985/a-world-of-sound

We have 25 articles in preparation for this special collection, which will cover a wide range of  topics across all of acoustics. Our first article has been published!