By Mark Dwortzan
The Association for Research in Otolaryngology (ARO) has selected Professor H. Steven Colburn(BME) as the 2014 recipient of its Award of Merit, a lifetime achievement award recognizing outstanding contributions to the study of the ear, nose and throat. Colburn is founder and director of the Boston University Hearing Research Centerand a leading expert on how the brain’s auditory system processes sound.
“I have been consistently impressed, throughout my career, by the previous winners of this award, and I am deeply honored to be included with them,” said Colburn. “I am particularly pleased that my work is regarded positively enough to be recognized by the ARO, an organization that includes the full breadth of hearing research, from psychophysics to neurophysiology to clinically-oriented research.”
Exploiting experimental data and mathematical modeling tools, much of Colburn’s research aims to develop an integrated representation of binaural (two-ear system) interaction and its role in human sound perception. He developed a binaural perception model linking physiological response to sound and auditory perception in people with normal and impaired hearing, and investigates critical topics such as “the cocktail party problem,” in which listeners strain to determine who’s talking and what they’re saying in complex, noisy environments. His current projects, all collaborations with PhD students funded by the National Institutes of Health and BU, include measuring the cocktail party effect in listeners with hearing impairments, and developing models of neural activity in the auditory system.
A Fellow of the Acoustical Society of America and the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering, and recipient of the Acoustical Society of America Silver Medal and Javitz Neuroscience Award, he has written widely in the past 40 years on challenges faced by the binaural system in complex acoustic environments, and on issues associated with hearing impairments and hearing aids, including cochlear implants.
A College of Engineering faculty member for more than 30 years, Colburn has also played a leading role in setting the top-ranked BME Department on a path of growth and excellence and inspiring generations of students to pursue careers in hearing research. The former associate chair for undergraduate studies, he chaired the Biomedical Engineering Department throughout the 1980s, was named BME Professor of the Year in 2002, 2006 and 2008, and delivered the 2012 College of Engineering Distinguished Scholar Lecture.