Creating a better understanding of how humans use and control their voice is the focus of a five-year study being led by University of Maine researcher Xudong Zheng. The assistant professor of mechanical engineering will use computer models to look at the role of mucosal wave propagation in sound production during phonation.
The goal is to understand the mechanism responsible for the range, complexity and uniqueness of the human voice. The research will contribute to the fundamental understanding of flow-induced sound through flow-structure interaction, and will advance the knowledge of voice production.
Researchers will develop diagnosis metrics for mucosal wave-related voice diseases, determine the adjustments to the vocal folds to restore or improve a damaged voice, and predict the outcome of the adjustment.
In the past year, an estimated 17.9 million people in the United States reported problems with their voice, according to the National Institutes of Health.
The research also could be applied to flow problems beyond voice production, such as the detection and diagnosis of heart murmurs generated by the flow-induced motion of heart valves, and the reduction of noise due to the blade-vortex interactions in wind turbines.
Zheng received a more than $513,000 National Science Foundation CAREER award for his project, “Sound Production by Flow Induced Elastic Wave with Application to Human Phonation.”
In addition to improving diagnosis and surgical procedures, the research could help people who use their voices extensively — teachers, performers, broadcasters — by providing knowledge for how to efficiently use and control their voices.