Johanna Fritzinger is a fourth-year Neuroscience graduate student at the University of Rochester Medical Center. Fritzinger graduated from Case Western Reserve University with a BS in Electrical Engineering and a minor in Music. Fritzinger is currently working in the lab of Laurel Carney, PhD, studying how complex sounds with timbre, the quality that allows sounds to be distinguished when they are identical in pitch, level, and duration, are represented in the auditory midbrain.
NIH awarded Fritzinger an F31 to investigate how the frequency spectrum of sounds with synthetic or natural timbre is expressed in neurons of the auditory midbrain. As part of this project, they are also improving a computational model of the auditory midbrain to better predict neuronal responses to timbre and other complex sounds. This research aims to better inform novel signal-processing strategies to benefit users of cochlear implants and hearing aids. Currently, these devices distort timbre.
“By using a range of musical sounds, we can more fully capture how mechanisms in the auditory system function in everyday life,” Fritzinger said. “I’m working in models with normal hearing to better understand how timbre is encoded in a healthy midbrain. This project has a basic science focus, but if we improve our computational midbrain model it could be applied to different hearing aid applications.”
Fritzinger’s journey to neuroscience was partly serendipitous. Fritzinger was a classically trained pianist interested in electrical engineering. During undergraduate school, they realized they could combine both interests in auditory neuroscience. “When I was interviewing for the graduate school here, I was surprised to learn how many faculty had engineering backgrounds. My undergraduate neuroscience training was limited, but I had the confidence that I would have the support needed to get me where I am today.”
This article originally appeared in NeURoscience | Vol 16.