Research in Australia for ECE student Crosby

March 15, 2005

By Gabriel Chen,'05

Patrick CrosbyThe buildings that line the street are six stories high with exteriors covered in balconies full of spectators and news crews. On the other side of wooden barricades is an ocean of even more spectators and swarms of medics carrying plastic stretchers and neck braces. On the streets, people scream and run for their lives and some push themselves against the wall as far away from the center as possible. They are chased by bulls in one of the most outrageous, dangerous and spectacular events, the running of the bulls in Pamplona, part of the Fiesta of Saint Fermin.

"It was an incredible experience just to be there," said Duke senior Patrick Crosby who didn’t participate, as he was afraid he could get hurt. "One of my friends fell down, but thankfully he didn’t get gored. It was one big mess. The night before, people are up the whole night drinking. In Spain, people don’t go to parties until two or three in the morning and they party till seven."

The Pamplona Bull Run is considered by some to be the definitive rite of manhood. Hundreds of intrepid locals and visitors risk their lives to outpace galloping, frenzied bulls as they hurtle along an 800-metre stretch of the town's streets towards the bull ring where, later that afternoon, they will be fought. The run lasts for three minutes on average, which are prolonged if any of the bulls should get separated.

Two summers ago (2003), Crosby, an electrical and computer engineering (ECE) and computer science double major, traveled alone to Spain to do an intensive Spanish language study abroad program at the University of Granada.

"It wasn’t a Duke program," Crosby said. "But that didn’t stop me from applying and getting accepted. I went to Spain knowing very little Spanish. As soon as I got off the plane, I was wondering what I got myself into, as I didn’t know anyone. However, I made friends there. Of course, it was more challenging, but it made the experience more fun."

Crosby said that he wasn’t very sociable when he first came to Duke as a freshman.

"I didn’t want to meet a whole lot of people," Crosby said. "I was initially overwhelmed by the number of students here, as I came from a really small high school in South Carolina. The first year was definitely hard, and I basically hung out with only a couple of guys down my hall. If I were to give any sort of advice to freshmen, I would tell them to go out and experience more things. Join an organization or a club and it will be less lonely," he said. Crosby became a die-hard member of Duke's Ultimate Frisbee club.

Offered the Reginaldo Howard Scholarship to come to Duke, Crosby felt he couldn’t say "no" and chose to come here, as he would "get a good education."

Duke provides five Reginaldo Howard Scholarships annually to first year students of African heritage who demonstrate outstanding leadership ability, scholastic achievement, community involvement, and evidence of serious commitment to a life of service to others. The award covers full tuition.

Crosby decided to do engineering because of his love for the sciences and mathematics. He felt ECE would be a better fit than BME, as he had taken computer science classes in high school before and enjoyed them a lot.

"I like learning and especially the light bulb moments in class when things start to make sense, but I never really liked biology," said Crosby who has now taken a plethora of courses for his ECE major including digital communication systems, digital systems theory, and electromagnetic fields.

In 2004, Crosby applied successfully for the Pratt engineering undergraduate research fellowship. The Pratt fellow’s program is one of many opportunities for undergraduates to conduct research. It also allows seniors to conduct independent studies or collaborate with distinguished faculty members.

Crosby is currently conducting signal processing research aimed at improving music perception for cochlear implant patients. He is also designing a research interface for an advance bionics cochlear implant.

The cochlear implant is a n electronic device that restores partial hearing to the deaf. It is surgically implanted in the inner ear and activated by a device worn outside the ear. It bypasses damaged structures in the inner ear and directly stimulates the auditory nerve, allowing some deaf individuals to learn to hear and interpret sounds and speech.

"Over the last 30 years, the cochlear implants are pretty good at letting hearing-impaired people hear speech, but they hear it as a synthesized sort of sound," Crosby said. "If you do it with music, they lose their enjoyment of the music. In order to improve music perception for patients, what engineers can do is to design processing algorithms that present more spectral and tonal information to patients. Tonal information will help patients distinguish between instruments and also allow them to understand similar words within each language. Cantonese and Mandarin are unique because they use tone to differentiate between words with different meanings. Spectral information such as frequency and pitch are important for musical perception."

Crosby said that he worked on two projects this summer. The first project consisted of his taking of simple nursery songs and synthesizing them. He would then let patients hear the original song as well as the synthesized version, which would have different degrees of spectral information.

"It seems pretty obvious that the lesser the spectral information, the more difficult it would be for patients to understand the song," Crosby said.

The next project that Crosby worked on was a channel interaction test.

"For example, there could be four channels on the electrode array, and let us suppose number one and two are next to each other. They’re both activated, which sends an impulse to the nerve. You get a detrimental effect if they overlap," he said.

Crosby found that channel interaction affected speech perception differently from musical perception. He said Dr. Leslie Collins, his research advisor, had intentions of expanding their research. As such, they have submitted the abstract of the pilot study to the Association for Research in Otolaryngology’s (ARO) conference on Molecular Biology and Hearing and Deafness.

Crosby, who graduated in May 2005, was awarded a Fulbright scholarship to go to Australia to further his research. After spending his year in Australia, Crosby plans to work in industry conducting research for several years before pursuing a graduate degree in electrical and computer engineering.

"Patrick is an absolutely outstanding student -- he has strong theoretical and analytical skills along with excellent intuition. He will without a doubt be a credit to Pratt and Duke, as well as the Fulbright program," said Collins.

Crosby said he’ll miss his close friends when he graduates from Duke this year.

"I’ve a friend from India who comes to my apartment ever so often and we would cook Indian food. He’s good at telling me what to put in the pot even though he doesn’t actually know how to cook it. But the food usually turns out pretty tasty," he said, laughing.

Crosby graduated in May 2005.