Speech researcher lands CFI funding

Funding offers new faculty research opportunities

by Hilary Thomson staff writer

A social sciences researcher is among the UBC scholars to receive funding in the latest round of New Opportunities grants from the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI).

Linguistics Asst. Prof. Bryan Gick was awarded $500,000--UBC's first major award from the CFI in the social sciences--to create an interdisciplinary speech research laboratory.

Six UBC research projects in disciplines ranging from surgery to engineering were recently awarded close to $1 million from CFI.

A total of $3.2 million was awarded to 21 projects across Canada to assist newly recruited faculty members develop their research.

Gick, who joined the Faculty of Arts from Yale University last July, specializes in studying the connection between the physical structures that articulate speech--tongue, lips and jaw--and the cognitive processes that organize language.

In the only laboratory of its kind in Canada, investigators from the School of Audiology and Speech Sciences, the Dept. of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the Psychology Dept. and others will collaborate on a variety of projects.

A major project aims to create the world's first three-dimensional computer model of the vocal tract.

"This is one of the body's most complicated motor control systems," says Gick. "We understand pieces of it, but we've never been able to model the whole system in action."

In addition to a more complete understanding of speech production, the model may assist in synthesizing speech. Applications include audio-visual communications and customized treatments and surgical reconstructions for people with cleft palate or loss of mouth or throat tissue.

Another lab project will record endangered languages, some of which are spoken by only one or two people. Gick, who teaches an undergraduate course on native languages of Canada, is committed to revitalizing endangered languages. CFI has allocated New Opportunities funding to each university in Canada. A UBC committee recommends projects for funding and submits the choices to CFI for ratification and approval.

Other successful applicants are: Kendall Bushe, Mechanical Engineering; Matt Choptuik, Physics and Astronomy; Steve Jones, Medical Genetics; Marco Marra, Medical Genetics; Andre Marziali, Physics and Astronomy; Alice Mui, Surgery; and Sarah Townsend, Medical Genetics.