Carnegie Mellon University
May 07, 2019

Shinn-Cunningham Earns Silver Medal from Acoustical Society of America

By Heidi Opdyke

Abby Simmons
  • Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences
  • 412-268-6094
Jocelyn Duffy
  • Mellon College of Science
  • 412-268-9982

Renowned auditory neuroscientist Barbara Shinn-Cunningham has been named the 2019 recipient of the Helmholtz Rayleigh Interdisciplinary Silver Medal in Psychological and Physiological Acoustics and Speech Communication "for understanding the cognitive and neural bases of speech perception in complex acoustic environments."

Shinn-Cunningham is director of Carnegie Mellon University's Neuroscience Institute, co-director of the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition, and a professor of psychology, biomedical engineering, and electrical and computer engineering.

"Barb has been an amazing addition to the CMU community, and this award reinforces her commitment and pursuit of world-class interdisciplinary science. Her leadership of CMU's new Neuroscience Institute, combined with Barb's groundbreaking research on understanding the neural basis of audition, has already had a significant impact on our faculty and students," said Michael J. Tarr, head of the Department of Psychology and the Kavčić-Moura Professor of Cognitive and Brain Science."

A fellow of the Acoustical Society of America, as well as a former vice president and member of the ASA Executive Council, Shinn-Cunningham is known for her spatial hearing work on the "cocktail party problem," which looks at how the brain blocks out certain sounds to pay attention to others. Her research uses behavioral, neuroimaging and computational methods to understand auditory processing from how sound is encoded in the inner ear to how cognitive networks understand auditory information in the brain.

"Hearing loss can have a profound impact on individuals' daily lives and contributes to impaired social, psychological and cognitive function," Shinn-Cunningham said. "As the population ages and noise exposure in our society steadily increases, understanding and treating hearing loss is one of the most important efforts of our time."

Since her appointment as director of the new Neuroscience Institute in 2018, Shinn-Cunningham has been setting the strategic direction for brain science at CMU, which aims to answer critical questions in neuroscience at the intersection of biology, cognitive psychology, computer science, statistics and engineering.

"Boundaries in neuroscience are now artificial as the field and other sciences have become more interdisciplinary," Shinn-Cunningham said. "Neuroscience is coming up with ways to measure volumes of data across different neural levels and during different points of interaction. Disciplines such as machine learning, data science and statistics — fields that CMU is known for — are exactly what neuroscience needs for its next leap forward."

Prior to joining CMU, Shinn-Cunningham was director of Boston University's Center for Research in Sensory Communication and Emerging Neural Technology (CRESCENT) and had been on BU's faculty since 1997. She graduated from Brown University and earned her master's degree and Ph.D. in electrical and computer engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Before her time at BU, she worked at Bell Communications Research, MIT Lincoln Laboratory and Sensimetrics.

In addition to directing CRESCENT, Shinn-Cunningham has led several multidisciplinary research centers. In 2012, she led the National Science Foundation-funded Science of Learning Center CELEST, and for four years brought researchers together from five institutions to generate additional funding from the NSF, National Institutes of Health and Department of Defense.