SKERI researcher awarded grant to study echolocation

A schematic diagram showing a neural activation map superimposed on a head, which is emitting sound waves that a nearby surface is reflecting.

Santani Teng, an Associate Scientist at Smith-Kettlewell, has been awarded a three-year grant from The E. Matilda Ziegler Foundation for the Blind and Visually Impaired to study the neural processes of echolocation.

Like bats and dolphins, some blind people use active echolocation: they make sounds and use the reflections to perceive and interact with their surroundings. These sounds, often in the form of short tongue clicks, provide surprisingly precise acoustic signals about the world, and in trained experts, activate the "visual" cortex — parts of the brain typically associated with seeing. However, echolocation happens fast: a sound can travel to an object, bounce back, and be analyzed by the brain in a few tenths of a second. Using time-resolved methods like electroencephalography (EEG), Dr. Teng's work under this grant aims to identify the steps that transform a click and echo into useful information. The work has the potential to improve our understanding of fundamental brain processes, auditory perception, and the development of training and assistive technological interventions.

The Ziegler Foundation provides research grants to early-stage investigators who show innovation and promise in research related to vision and visual impairment. Dr. Teng was a former postdoctoral fellow at SKERI and is using this award to help establish his lab, including funding a postdoctoral fellow of his own, joining SKERI in fall 2020.